Late in 2018 I moved house. Again. I felt wretched with grief. Again. I’ve never been a dedicated gardener because I was never in the same place for long. Depression killed a lot of my house plants.
When people asked me what I liked about the new house I answered ‘it has a compost bin’. If it seemed like I was reaching, it’s because I was.
In 2017 my health was very bad. I spent a lot of time bedridden, and it culminated in some bad news towards the end of the year; things were getting worse.
I went to the sea and I cried.
On the way home I stumbled across a nursery selling unusual herbs. I purchased an All-heal (Prunella vulgaris) as a promise to myself that I would get better.
I put it in the salty hard ground and it flourished. I grew and I healed.
Then I lost my home.
The All-heal was torn out of the ground against my wishes, shoved into an overcrowded pot, and nearly died.
We were both struggling, this plant and I, but once more I promised myself I would get better.
I repotted it for transport with some catmint, betony, agrimony and a rogue self-seeded mugwort. After settling in to my new house, I doted on this plant, listened carefully, trimmed and cared for it.
The yard of this new residence was large with several barren raised planter beds. The loamy soil had been poisoned by the previous tenants. They were filled with fire pit ash and garbage. But it had a compost bin. And I needed to grow.
I worked the soil. I pulled out chunks of charcoal by hand, stirred in sulphurs and acids, manure and coir. Lifeless grey powder slowly darkened. I was filled with joy when the worms returned. My arms and shoulders got stronger.
I put the All-heal in the earth and slowly, it grew.
The compost bin became my altar to love and failure.
We live. We die. We try again.
This plain black plastic barrel is a digester that chews and churns and makes acid to soothe the overly alkaline soil, spores that irritate my nose, and heat. The centre of the heap gets hot enough to burn bare skin. The Queen of Green Death is strong here.
Scraps from meals cooked by beloveds, cuttings from their gardens that didn’t root, bunches of flowers, twigs I absentmindedly stuffed in my pockets, everything goes into the digester. Nothing ever truly dies.
It’s only been a few months now, but already it’s contents are rich and black. I estimate it will be ready to put on the garden when the lease ends and I must uproot myself once more. I’ll be taking the contents of the bin with me. The knowledge I will be leaving soon affects my choices here, but this soil will be my legacy. I will leave this place better than I found it, and it will have taught me much.
Gardening is a sacred act like no other.
In the garden, I am not an omnipresent god. The process is a collaboration. We grow. We strive. We try. We die and return to the compost and try again.
I plant seeds. I gently awaken the dreaming children of True Chamomile Regent only to find myself with far too many plants. My only option is to perform a cull. ‘Why did you call us then?’ they ask. I thin them out and I am sad. I sing to them as I work. I did not realize they would be so eager to grow. My cucurbits spoke to me in a dream to tell me they were being choked by fungus. They whisper to me when they are thirsty.
Gardening in the spring takes a lot of time. There’s always more to be done. Overcrowded plants to repot, separate, weed, propagate. Seedlings to thin and water. Soil to condition, till, fertilize. I discourage rather than kill whatever I can. But sometimes I must.
I startled a foraging rat one evening when emptying table scraps into the compost.
‘Hey it’s ok, just don’t have babies in there!’ I called out as it scampered away. I didn’t want any harm to come to its infants when I turn the compost with a special corkscrew-shaped fork.
Recently, it died my garden. I think it was the brutal summer heat. I hope it has a family nearby to continue on in its stead. Its body is now feeding the row of feral tomatoes that shelter under the passion fruit vine.
Today I planted sunflowers.