Last month, I posted about my plans to try to garden with the moon; I’ve done very little gardening since! This weekend, I was hoping to get some gardening done but snow has closed the road to Braemar west of us, and here by the North Sea we’ve had freezing winds and rain. This is the time of year for gardeners to dream: of gardens past and future.
I actually work in two gardens – our own at home, and also the church garden:
This all started because, when we moved to the church four years ago, there was a notice in the church magazine saying that the garden team needed another helper, or else they would have to plant low-maintenance shrubs throughout. This idea horrified me, and also I really liked the idea of being able to contribute to the church by gardening. (This was not an option at our former church, St. Machar’s Cathedral, which is surrounded by a graveyard.)
A few years later, and I find myself in the odd position of being The Gardener. But I’m just one of a team. One man cuts the grass, the retired gardener grows about 300 bedding plants for us twice a year – the Livingston daisies and lobelia above were all grown by him from seed – and I have a helper on many Saturdays, a young man from Cameroon who hasn’t gardened before but seems to enjoy himself. Other people contribute in various ways too.
Caring for the church garden is very different from gardening at home. For one thing, you get extravagant praise. So much that’s done in the church is more or less invisible, or is the same from week to week. No one notices that the sanctuary is spotless because the cleaner dusts and vacuums it every week. But people notice when the bulbs come up or when the bedding is lifted – and they tell me “the garden’s looking lovely” as if I’d done it singlehandedly. Sometimes people come to offer suggestions or advice. I’ve learned a lot!
When I plan for the church garden, I try to make it something that people will enjoy. In my own garden, I don’t grow masses of bedding. In the church garden, although I’ve cut back on the amount of bedding that’s planted, I’ve kept as much as I can manage. I’ve learned how to garden in this way, with much help from my predecessor (who was a professional), and I’m glad to do it because it really makes people happy. After all, it’s their garden.
There’s a very particular atmosphere in the church garden. I love working there and am almost always home later than I’ve promised, because I find it hard to leave. One member told me that she’d come into the church past the spring flower bed “and it was like a fairy garden!” It made me happy that even before she came into the church itself she felt she’d come into a special place. Many of the plants in the garden have a special significance. Recently a member told me that the weeping tree (with the red berries in the top photo) was planted for a child who died. That family long ago moved away, but the tree is there and it makes a difference to me to know why it’s there when I’m weeding around it. Also when I’m working in the bed below the memorial to those of the church who died in the First World War, I often wonder about them as I read their names.
I’m very conscious of the work that’s been done by those who’ve gone before. For example, I know that one of the earlier gardeners, who recently died in her 90s, was a Land Girl in the Second World War. She developed a love for growing things that she transferred to the church garden for the next 30 years or so. Many others have spent hours tending and loving the garden, and I think you can feel it when you’re there. The Old Order churches – the Shakers, Quakers, Amish and so forth – believe that work is a form of worship. Certainly I feel that when I’m here, and that feeling transfers over to the gardening I do at home.
I’m nowhere near as strict a gardener as some of the older folks in the congregation. My edgings are far from perfect, and I do let quite a few self-seeded plants please themselves. These violas just appeared, and I was so glad I left them to flower.
It’s very important to me that the children are involved in the garden. The Sunday School children plant nasturtiums in late spring: this is also my cunning way of getting them to be a bit more careful of the flowerbeds. Many days after church the garden is full of the children playing together, and to me that’s the best possible use of the church garden. If a few plants are trampled in the chase for a ball, I’m sure the garden agrees with me that the sound of children laughing in it is more important.