By anyone’s standards, my garden is a mess. I avoid it, so it grows. And recently it’s been growing a lot. I avoid it through a mixture of shame and panic: the neighbours are probably muttering about it and I buckle with the thought of having to tackle it. But I love it. And, today, I believe I have finally come to terms with that.
I have no lawn, but I do have a lot of grass. I have visiting cats that bolt from the rapacious undergrowth like frightened – well, like frightened cats – and scare the living crap out of me while I’m hanging out the washing.
I have bees in my garden, and butterflies and insects. I have glorious spider-webs that shimmer in the dew and winter frost. In summer, I have pale, soft, furry grasses that crumble in a child’s hand to be scattered like snowflakes. (I also have two dead Christmas trees hidden somewhere underneath.) I have wild poppies in yellows and reds, with bees jumping in and out of them, and brambles with beads of white flowers.
I have a few cultivated plants too, still struggling valiantly since they were neglected five or six years ago. I have a large bush of a thistle, with fantastic purple flowers, and another extraordinary purple thing that I’ve no idea what it is or whence it came. I have a flowering currant, fighting against the garden’s relentless onslaught, and something else that looks pretty when it flowers.
Periodically, I will extract the suffocating cleavers from these to give them a little breathing space. But, ultimately, the cultivated plants have no chance. Some have fallen already; the garden will have them all in the end.
I have done almost nothing to my garden for years, so Nature is taking over.
That’s right: Nature is taking over.
So why do I feel I’ve neglected it? Why do I consider myself a Bad Neighbour for not butchering my lovely grasses in favour of a crisp and tidy lawn? Why do I panic when friends want to see my garden, or feel sheepish when they ask me about it?
In short, why am I so rubbish at getting off my backside and crushing Nature like a normal person would?
Because normal people, apparently, are tidy. They are better than Nature and they’re going to show it who’s boss. They will chop it and order it and keep it under control. And that requires good, honest and regular work, which proves they’re not lazy and have earned their place in the world through pointless toil.
Or, if accusations of laziness don’t bother them, they simply dump a load of concrete on it.
Why? Why do we feel so intimidated by the natural way of things? Maybe scientists will one day discover that Humankind arrived from space on the back of a spider, but until then I think it’s safe to believe we are as much of this Earth as anything else that grows on it. Why are we so scared of that?
Of course, many people enjoy gardening for precisely the reasons that I enjoy my garden. And I envy that passion, dedication and delight more than I can ever explain.
But I am not that person, and I’m tired of wishing I was. So, at last, I shall allow myself to love my garden guiltlessly.