The last difficult goodbye was just like the one before, and the one before that: quick, cheery, almost effortless. Words spoken at my last goodbye rolled off my tongue because they had to, and that’s taken years of practice.
Going back a few years, I would most often whisper the words “bye for now,” which somehow seemed softer and less permanent, but I really knew that anything I said wouldn’t erase the twelve sleeps that would pass before we could be together again. So with a sinking chest and through tight lips I would attempt a smile, not wanting in any way to appear happy that we were parting. I dread to think how it must have looked to her.
I recall those bright eyes looking back whenever we separated and trying to hold them in mine for as long as I could. We’d hug, and again I’d hold her for as long as possible, not wanting to let go. In some way I hoped that my embrace would reinforce the love and affection I held for her, and I could only hope that it worked.
If those goodbyes ever got easier, it was certainly not from the occasions becoming agreeable, more likely it was repetition. It was a necessary evil we learned to accommodate over years, and only after many lost tears and intense, repeated heartache. The parting still hits me these days of course, but today my bruises, if not my heart, have hardened somewhat.
At the end of every drop-off, in those old days I would wait. I’d busy myself sorting items in the boot or re-tuning the radio or something, whilst really just waiting to see if she was safely seated in her car, and in case she needed to lock eyes one more time. I’d always leave the car park last, having watched as she was driven away from me and that car park. I hated that car park on a Sunday evening, I never wanted to arrive, and always found it hard to leave there too.
Even as she drove away, I would mentally send her encouragement as I began to process another treasured weekend coming to an end. ‘Be strong, be brave’ I would think. “Take care… I love you… sorry…” might also have left my lips as I drove myself slowly away, often squinting to see the road through tear filled eyes.
Jumping back to the present, and my last, most recent goodbye, it was in many ways every part as difficult as the old days. The difference now though is that today my daughter doesn’t climb into her mum’s car, she steps into her own car, and drives away under her own steam.
During the last goodbye random thoughts still filled my head just like they always did. A key difference now is that I willed her to not look back, and to watch the road, take it steady and drive carefully. I usually speak at least two out loud before she’s even fastened her seatbelt.
Since the early days she has grown of course, and my kneeling down dad and daughter hugs have grown up too. Last time, we’d been out for lunch, chatting like proper grown ups at a restaurant but still, inevitably, the time came to leave each other. Before she drove away we hugged, as always, and I tried, as always, to convey in that restricted moment my feelings of affection, comfort, reassurance, support, love and much more. So that last difficult goodbye flew in the face of guilt, it blocked out thoughts of regret, and it focused most genuinely on my feelings of love, the latter element being the one that has bound us together throughout.
It was the beach that drew us on a particular Thursday, whilst staying at Grandma’s house during school’s half term break. A trip out to keep two energetic boys occupied, to busy their minds, to stretch their legs, and to offer respite. Just a week before their Granda had passed away, an immense loss that they, all of us in fact, were still processing. Yet there they were, immersed in a week which on the surface looked like just another holiday week staying over at their grandparent’s house. Except that it wasn’t a normal week at all.
In the background adults were grieving, tearing up at the oddest of moments, and pausing mid conversation, falling deep into thought. We were being especially strong for the boys though, and their Grandma too. Whether it was working none of us knew, but on the surface we were all doing okay, and we moved through the week with the minimum of fuss towards a weekend departure; knowing we’d be back again for the day of all days, less than a week later.
On that day though, not for aforementioned reasons, it wasn’t a typical beach day. Their Mam was to stay behind to work from Grandma’s dining room table, as I had done the day before. Beyond that, it was the weather that could and did challenge our trip out to see the sea. Cloudy, possible sun, and a strong possibility of rain later on was the outlook. The offer though to tempt us out was pebble speckled golden sand, lots of it, a harbour with a petite lighthouse, and a modest sea front selection of cafes.
Heading across the road after parking, our fists were already clenched in our pockets and eyes squinting, as the cool coastal wind made its presence felt. Along the promenade we ventured with a handful of the hardiest dog walkers, each with at least one hound in need of a stretch. Down on the shore itself, a terrier like specimen shocked us as it played vigorously in the cold sea, rocking back and forth as it scampered to chase and escape the fast rolling waves.
Tracking along in search of a lunch stop, the marina to the south stopped us in our tracks, forcing an about turn. Previously going with the flow, we then faced into the wind and walked on in search of lunch; a necessary element to ensure the afternoon would have any longevity at all. Passing a meagre cafe offering, it soon became clear that we’d have to adopt the traditional sea side fish and chip format for our food stop, although on that day and in that weather, even that would be something of a challenge.
Eventually we found ourselves sat in a beach hut eating our tasty scran, as I think they say in those parts, each with a single hand buried still in a pocket to keep it warm, the other used of course to wield the chip stabbing wooden forks. If only those huts hadn’t faced north I thought, exactly where the wind was coming from. Still, after a belly full of grub we were fuelled and cooled and ready to take on the beach, regardless of the weather. (So long as it didn’t rain!) So along the front we ventured and down onto the stoney sands, to enjoy the intermittent sunshine.
In no time at all, shouts from the boys were the only thing that surpassed the volume of the wind, as they looked to experience everything that beach had to offer. Rock climbing was first on their agenda, and who could blame them, clambering up huge boulders stacked haphazardly against the sea wall. Smooth, dark stone surfaces facing this way and that, hiding black holes large enough to swallow an unsuspecting leg whole.
Down on the flats, damp and firm underfoot from the morning’s high tide, the golden sand made its presence felt. Desiccating winds coursing left to right across the beach front were constantly drying and lifting the grains, sending them airborne in dreamy ribbons that created streamlined fins on the leeward side of every stone, shell or sea worn stick. As the boys played I walked on a while into the wind, enjoying the sun’s warmth on my face that somehow made its way through, until I reached the pier wall that offered itself up as a shield. There I stayed awhile, leant against the wall watching passers by, my boys in the sandy distance playing happily together for a change.
On my return I realised the youngest of my lads had created some kind of desert scenario for himself, although he was in live-time crawling and dragging himself across the beach using sticks for climbing hooks. His whole face was covered by a neck scarf like some kind of adventurer up against the weather, but it wasn’t to stop his hair, shoes and most of his clothes filling up with sand, as I later discovered. I could see he was getting in a messy state of course, but in the moments I drew near I could picture the play he was making, dragging himself most likely up a Sahara sand dune in a raging storm. So I let him be, not wanting to break that magic.
Although chilled, we rattled around that beach for a good while, not knowing when we’d next get an opportunity. I also knew that every moment out in the salty fresh air where worries could blow themselves away, and where innocent fun could still be enjoyed, were our moments to have and to treasure. So we played and spent time together yes, but also had time to ourselves throwing stones into the sea, digging holes, searching for sea glass or just staring at the sea spray flying up behind the pier’s lighthouse.
Now, as I record those moments on the sand, I see smiles and hear shouts as the boys wrestled and experienced some of nature’s seaside elements. Real grins appear as I remember asking them to pose before a seaward rainbow, a rainbow that heralded the shower that would send us packing to the car.
Above all, in a time underpinned with grief and sadness, I know that we all captured an afternoon in time that, despite the wider picture, was unique, irreplaceable, happy, thought provoking and priceless. A valuable moment of respite.
A little while ago whilst staying away from home, and with a need for some fresh air, I carried myself and the little ones off to Herrington Park, Sunderland. On the surface, I simply wanted to experience some of the bracing wind, some casual walking and, I hoped, some late February sunshine. There was also an ulterior motive to get the kids away from their screens and outdoors for a while.
Landscaped over twenty years ago, Herrington Park features machine-sculpted hills and hollows and is dressed with hedgerows, trees and shrub-filled thickets. These plantations are busy and mature, now bringing life to the park with significant opportunity for nesting and foraging birds. Additionally, the planting doubles up to control views and create wonderful characterful areas too, where cleverly a path appears to loop behind every shrubbery to draw you always onward. Any Georgian landscape garden worth its salt could hardly have bettered this achievement – if I dare to draw a comparison that is.
As we walked, I couldn’t help but notice that buds had begun bursting on some of the thorn shrubs – somewhat early I thought. Tiny fresh leaves in patches had unfurled, boldly opening to soak up some of that same winter sun that I sought, appearing from a distance as green confetti caught in thorny twigs. Mind you, with February temperatures hitting double figures of late and hazel catkins visibly shrivelling as their work neared its end, I shouldn’t have been surprised to witness such eagerness for spring.
Aside from the thickly planted, wilder and open pool spaces though, the expansive park is largely mown grass. To this I can’t help but think that its summer cutting offers a monotonous task each week for someone, not least for the extra challenge of trimming a large grass amphitheater, with its many steps and angles. All that cut grass though, aside from creating acres of playing space does assist appreciation of the sculpted ground forms, and when scanning the landscape, those smoothly contoured and mown slopes often encouraged my eyes, if not my feet, to fly out across and into the view.
There are curvy peaks and troughs across much of the park, but its success for me is the balance struck between detailed, more intimate spaces and wide open ones. On that blustery day, those thoughtfully composed areas worked perfectly to shield us from the weather’s worst, allowing us to sit calmly on a sculpture bench and watch the world go by in one spot, whilst also giving opportunity to connect with the more distant views in another, most notably the impressive Penshaw Monument, an awe inspiring Greek style structure just across the way.
Another strong and evocative presence in this park is the rows of terraced houses nestled towards the perimeter. I took them for miner’s housing from yesteryear, on the basis that this whole expanse of land was once a colliery from the 1880s, through to the 1980s. Green and pleasant it might now be and a space for people to roam free, but once upon a time it were a working mine, where hard physical inputs had to be matched with revenue building outputs – or else! These time-served houses connected visually and mentally with countless others in nearby estates, and quite appropriately stood as living mirrors to the history of this place.
Today, Herrington Park is an exemplar venue for rebirth and recreation. Ponds and streams, trees and tussocky grass, pitches and play grounds, ice cream vans and interactive sculpture now populate and heal a place once plundered for its mineral assets.
Artistic and landscape considerations aside, I was drawn whilst walking on that windswept day to consider the park’s impact on us. At one point, after a mini rock climbing moment, my kids were perched on a huge boulder that in turn was perched atop a hill we’d zig-zagged up. They both stood up momentarily in defiance of the wind that threatened to lift them clean off, but on hearing their shouts of pure joy and raucous laughter proved to me that every step of the walk had been worthwhile, and to feel the exhilarating wind that screwed their eyes and chilled their cheeks, was priceless. Talk about being in the moment…
A football might have been kicked along and carried as we walked but it was landscape, nature and fresh air that lifted our spirits in that park, on that day. People walked dogs, pushed chairs and fed waterfowl, kids played on equipment and wheeled around the skatepark. Birds chased others through branches, a duck danced above the water to stretch its wings and people queued for snacks at the park hub. Everywhere we looked, folks were actively enjoying and drinking it all in.
Herrington Park is, like all other parks I suppose, an engineered and reworked landscape; a re-dressed piece of earth if you will. As I reflect now, understanding more of its past than before, I realise there is so much more to that park with a history deeply imbedded beneath its smooth mown grass. As we walked and talked, observed and experienced during our February visit, what I felt then and what still resonates as the days pass, is that Herrington Park is as rich a resource now as a public park, as ever it were as a colliery; and long may it remain so.
Gary Webb. February 2023. My writing journey continues…
Stepping carefully through frozen leaves so not to squish snowdrops, I ventured through vegetation to the river’s edge until it appeared – a view of a boathouse from across the water. I merely sought another perspective and to understand why there, and why built in such an unusual way?
Visible mostly by the crisp outlines of a tiled roof perched upon hefty, stripped bark tree trunk pillars, the recently restored boathouse was a subtle, historic and hidden gem. Indeed, in such a vast landscape dressed with attention seeking sculptures, formal gardens, ancient trees and deer herd, you would be forgiven for passing by this rustic shaded beauty unawares.
As it would have been inside the mind of its Georgian creator, this boathouse was a dream-like work of art. Rising from the four corners of its roof were precisely cut tiles that climbed towards flag and globe finials, rendered gold yet largely unseen from this angle, and mostly cast in shade. Between the ridges, scalloped, hand crafted slates added even more character to the already pretty house. There was something more to this structure though, as it felt like a part of something else, something bigger.
This new vista had proved a success, gifting me a hoped for view of the boat house from across the river. At this point along its route the water was a cloudy, gracefully passing mass, and just a few paces downstream, a portion would soon be scooped away for a special purpose. Through a picturesque stone arch and in contrast to the calming river, the stolen water raced and fell rapidly, flooding the area in atmospheric sound worthy of the wildest wilderness.
My gaze was held by the primary river though, patterned with a scene of shadows, trees and sky, even the crazy stick work of the boathouse itself was reflected in crisp perfection. Inverted, towering plane trees reached down into an alternate world of hope, holding a mirrored sun firmly between their branches. This long natural river scene however, with its stone arches and composed cascades, with its lofty trees and view framed by outgrown evergreen yew clumps – was a complete fabrication.
The boathouse – bespoke, the river – carved, the landform – manipulated, the archway stones – stacked, and the trees – very carefully selected, located, and pruned; the entire space originally created over two centuries ago had been designed. Yet the scene, aside from its exquisite boathouse and unusual stonework nearby, appeared so correct as could easily be mistaken for the work of nature itself.
Just a few moments on that river bank, and a few moments earlier touching the timber knots of the boathouse itself, was enough. Enough to feel the energy that flowed relentlessly from the sun, through every cell of those tall trees, along each grassy blade and inside the river itself. Enough to sense the respect, passion and dedication given by countless people in times past. Moments enough to comprehend and consider the broader creation.
So, to the spirit and creators and carers of that boathouse and its wider, wilder home, your thoughtful work and passion continues, living in the folks who patiently try to see, to understand and appreciate what went before. We can only imagine how it must have been, how it must have felt back in its prime. Of the modern day efforts though, we most earnestly hope you approve, whoever, or whatever you are.
An experience of a boathouse at Belton, Lincolnshire, by Gary Webb.
It was good to be there, enjoying the winter glow, and to be amongst the cooing, spilling, driving noise. Refreshing it was to be on my time and be out amongst people who also chose that park, that day. I drew comfort from seeing folks like me, and not like me, strolling and wheeling between the trees, benches, bins.
Cold may have tickled my exposed neck but the sun’s glow washed my face with warmth, and the chilly metal park bench grounded me to that place. Under the lumpy holly oak I sat with the brightest sun blaring through its low swaying branches, light flashing across waves of that choppy pond, transforming waterfowl into silhouettes.
Geese honked and gulls flapped wildly into the air towards anyone likely to scatter food, hoping morsels would fall within striking distance. At my feet speculative pigeons trod a winding route, also hoping for free food to arrive, styling it away when nothing appeared.
Noise from bustling nearby traffic was drowned, literally, by thick ribbons of water rising and falling from six fountains in the pond, each descending stream creating a disk of white water turbulence birds wisely avoided. Sights, smells, sounds; the whole embracing scene wrapped around me.
As I record those moments to read again, I know that I can be carried there again quicker than a glint on that water. When days to come grip me indoors or in traffic, these memories will loosen the grasp and revive me. ‘Twas a rest day, a peace day, a sit in the sun and take it all in day and you, like I can hold days like those in your heart.
Today, I embarked on an early morning school run thanks to a school bus that didn’t arrive. Despite the bright sunshine, temperatures were sub-zero, which encouraged a hasty car window de-icing session, followed by the hurried delivery of two youngsters, so Dad’s taxi could save the day. Thankfully, the frantic one way dash was followed by a steadier return trip across the hills as I headed back home, when I could at least have more time to take in the frozen panoramic landscape.
Descending the hill from the Fosseway in a car which had finally warmed, I emerged from a heavily wooded hillside to reveal a familiar view of my home village spread left to right, across a flat and very cold land. It was almost a scene from a Victorian Christmas card, where everyone was awakening from another chilly December night; icy rooftops and chimney stacks faced this way and that, occasional trees peeked above, and all was shrouded in the finest mist that faded as it rose high to a wide pastel blue sky.
Also, sat in the sky above the village, I was delighted to see December’s Cold Moon, which held a full and dominant if subtle position up high. I’m fascinated by the moon, and have been frustrated not to have spent more time across the last few nights taking in its full glory, especially as it’s the last full moon of the year. I was glad then, on this frosty morn, to still see my old friend who had hung around for breakfast before bidding farewell.
This cold snap, I might as well add, is all down to the moon, although I have little scientific evidence to prove it. Indeed I’d convinced myself as the moon waxed across the last few days, that the climate had gradually settled and calmed; at least it had across my locality. The depth and sharpness of the frost had increased, yes, but aside from that, the soothing effects were to be seen around as the moon made its presence felt.
Could I be imagining the moon’s impact, am I way off the mark, I ask myself? I’m not sure, but it often pays to keep an open mind I find. It’s just I seem to notice that whenever the full moon arrives and departs, the weather often seems to change. I really should start recording to test it out.
If you know me, you’ll know that I try hard in every situation to connect with the environment around me, although when I’m at home, in my ‘sanctuary’ as it were, I admit that my outlook is somewhat curtailed. There are no distance views from my windows to leafy landscapes or rolling hills, there are no woodlands or mountains, and I could hardly be more land-locked in this country if I tried – so sea views are way out of bounds. Not to be outdone however, when I am at home, I’m drawn, beyond the detail of my own garden to look up. I look up to the sky, and the perplexing universe beyond; up there has become the go-to place for my mind and curiosity to wander free.
Up there of course, beyond those cloud formations and viewed amongst the stars, the moon and its cycle never fails to draw my focus, not just for its scale, but for its impact on the earth and ourselves. It definitely affects my sleep although I’m not sure why, and is known to impact the environment too, something I’m attempting to get to grips with and understand. All things considered therefore, I confess here to being completely under the moon’s spell, and I’m happy, rightly or wrongly, to put the cool brilliance of the last few days firmly down to the moon.
Whatever the weather, and whatever the cause, this morning’s rushed road trip turned out to have a silvery lining after all. For one, it put me out amongst that village view, even if it were in a toasty car, and for two, it pushed me to consider more carefully the sugared fields and frozen hedgerows, the tufty roadside grass and even an obelisk’s bay leaves beside my parking space at home, which were frosted perfectly around their margins. Indeed, I was conjuring up words even before I sat down to write.
After all is said and done, the youngsters made their first lessons, the moon bid its goodbye, I paused to notice, and this little piece appeared to sit as a memory on my blog. Thanks for reading. Regards, Gary
Recently on a cool, rain threatened autumnal day, I met with some colleagues at a local arboretum; a venue chosen specially for being away from our own regular haunts and much trodden garden workplaces. The group was essentially made up of gardens, parks and tree managers, who all held the simple aim of meeting, reconnecting and talking.
There’s nothing quite like a trip out to compare and contrast, and so for this gathering, there were plenty of visual treats to prompt discussion. Incredible foliage colours, new tree varieties to discover, unusual growth forms and fungi to puzzle over. We also made time, naturally, to test the recently refurbished café – why ever would we not?!
Placed in the fading days of autumn, the subdued light on that particularly overcast day set a calm, mellow tone that seemed perfect for an end-of-a-very-long-year stroll. Furthermore, being the last productive day of the week, there was an additional need for the day to be topped and tailed with emails and business as usual. Some were noticeably responding to issues back at base throughout the day.
At the foot of the day though, any melancholic moods were quickly swept away. Firstly as my lift arrived and we jumped straight into a much needed business catchup. Secondly, as we bumped into another colleague on arriving in the car park; the giggles started in earnest at that point. Then lastly, as the three of us were warmly greeted by the others already gathered around two tables in the cosy café.
Now, as casual as these gatherings might appear, something that always grips me is the blend and makeup of the individual folks within the group. All present had pretty much devoted their working lives to the horticultural world, as have I, but all are so completely different, working as they do in unique situations. There are some traits though that common to all, if existing in varying degrees: a love for plants; conservation minded; creative thinkers; entrepreneurial, heritage focused, nature protective and so on. They’re also, I must add: leaders of people, motivators, critical thinkers, strategists and much more.
I could easily expand those lists, but if further recognition is needed I can also confirm that between them, they hold some of the most prestigious horticultural positions in public heritage gardens, across three south midlands counties. Indeed, should we have to pay for the combined gardens management experience around that table, we wouldn’t get much change out of 250 years for the several who were present.
Needless to say, there was plenty to talk about. Nevertheless, whilst the conversation flowed across and around the table, I couldn’t help but picture each of their garden plots; knowing them very well having visited privately and professionally for more years than I dare remember. To that end, being conscious of not wanting to merely write this as minutes from an informal meeting, I thought it might be interesting to verbally paint their gardens for you; so do brace yourself for a swift garden time travelling experience!
Amongst the venues then, are those where their original development spanned the entire eighteenth century, with one particularly fine example fixed, as it were, in the formal early years of the period where refined formality and rigid geometry won the day. The tightest of tending and most careful preening greets me when I visit there but set amongst bee-pitted clay walls, smooth bowling lawns and flowery wilderness walks, it feels entirely appropriate and correct. We can stroll along gravelled walkways, touch real citrus fruits grown in a real orangery, focus on individual flowers in their rich glory, and even bowl on a green just like the historical sketches – tricorns optional of course.
Other plots from that same pivotal gardening century and represented in our gathering offer, both historically and now, a beautiful contradiction to that early century playground. These feature large serpentine lakes, wilderness walks for strolling amongst berries and shrubberies overhung with exotic trees. These garden plots, with at least two classic venues represented at our gathering, are altogether more discreet in their make up, and vast too, with blurred boundaries that leave people debating where the garden ends and its park begins; God bless the ha-ha.
But then, with those Georgian masterpieces often taking top billing, I bring balance, with two gardens represented whose glow from either side of the glorious eighteenth century try valiantly to steal the limelight. Between them, medieval stew ponds, time served topiary and extravagant terraces are juxtaposed with flowing flower borders, hidden corners and woodland walks. Rockeries, kitchen gardens, evocative sculptures, bog gardens and mirror pools are also perfectly posed between lime mortared walls speckled with time served vine eyes.
These gardens, even with their vast parklands and countryside views where an imagination can wander, are intimate, protective, and atmospheric. Whilst their houses generally hold a moment in time, their gardens are positively alive and kicking, their borders continue growing, and their nature broadens. They offer countless places to pause, be it to sit in peace and let worries float away, to lean on a wall and breathe fresh air, or to simply stick your nose amongst the flowers. These gardens are much loved too.
Another garden, I have to say, challenges the very idea of a garden. That place offers long walks, and then some. There are vast lakes with islands, grottoes, ever-growing shrubberies and carefully composed vistas. Temples placed here and there, almost everywhere, hold hidden meanings. Many structures are still in active use, giving purpose and a destination to each garden spaces, whilst some are merely shells, each with a hauntingly beautiful character.
That place I have to say is vast, immense and hard to comprehend. It does though, despite its grandeur and obvious place in another time, hold something for the now. Like the others, it can transport you to a specific date in the past or the set of a period drama, but it’s also perfectly ready for the now. Whether for exercise or inspiration, for room to spread your wings, or to find one of countless spaces for reflection, this venue holds these in horse-drawn cart loads.
But there’s one more garden, the last I’ll mention for now, which holds all of those gardening periods in its grasp. If you were to peer through a time focussed virtual reality headset, if it were to exist, you would see Edwardian, Victorian, Georgian and Elizabethan layers woven tightly together. But importantly you would see striking interventions, modern designs if you will, that confidently land this garden in the twenty first century too.
This last garden has seen some hard times, I think it’s fair to say, but has been held together by care, devotion and continued focus. Some of its trees and land forms stretch back over four hundred years to a time when the river-side plot would hardly be considered a garden at all. Formality arrived in a huge way at one stage with raised walkways, fish ponds and pavilions which vied for space with farmed animals and flower pots. This of course, was largely swept away though and fashionably tamed for a while, in an attempt to restore a more natural setting. But, as is the way, that garden endured much change again when the flower favouring gardeners arrived and swished their brushes.
To think all of the gardens mentioned above represent but a small slice of the larger gardens cake available, and regardless of what triggers every visit, what is not lost to everyone involved in our gathering, is that all these places offer somewhere safe to connect, to engage, to be nurtured. What is not lost to me also, is that for each garden mentioned above there’s an incredible person who as well as being an expert in their field, is connected, engaged, and nurturing too.
I have and will always have a huge respect for the knowledge and experience that people like this hold. They’re managers and leaders, yes, but they are care-takers too, of places, heritage, the environment and of people. To them, every fingerprinted brick, carved walling stone, and every verdigris garden door hinge matters. Every garden apprentice who offers new hope and a safer future, matters. Every trained gardener interested to learn more, matters, and every volunteer and visitor, matters.
For me then, that day when we walked and talked amongst the trees, laughed and learnt amongst the yellowing leaves, was a delight. To be with these influential people and listen as they put an incredibly challenging year into perspective, was an education.
Whatever each of those folks took away from the gathering I dare not assume, but connecting, throwing ideas around, sharing experiences, was for me worth every minute – even the machinery chat! So whilst the rain threatened, it never actually fell, and whilst the year slowly rolls to a close, these gardening types are busy planning; not just for next year, but genuinely planning for the future generations who will visit and work in the places they hold so close.
To summarise our autumnal gathering, I’ll close by saying that whether it was over coffee, whilst strolling around the arboretum and especially during lunch, we talked. We chewed the fat, put it out there and aired some linen as we walked. Then, when all was said and done, we took away some seasonal nuggets of wisdom, and a renewed sense of belonging; or maybe that was just me…
I carried myself away for some rest and recuperation to an old English garden where, as I wandered with camera in hand, a flat-topped bench beckoned me to perch for a while. Each of the seat’s timbers were gently ridged along the grain, and within every little furrow a hint of green algae could be seen.
Previously for an hour or so I’d been zigzagging around a glorious garden that was falling radiantly towards winter. Yet as lovely as it was, I’d left the garden for a while and was heading for more natural spaces. The bench I happened across wasn’t the first, but it did seem to call me, so it would have been rude to walk on by.
So there I found myself positioned midway down a long and very straight path, the tips of my boots grounding me below the bench. What an exposed position I first thought, with a steep bank falling away behind me towards sheep nibbled fields and to my front, a large open pool stretching wide and long.
As I settled down I studied the scene more closely. To my foreground and beyond the grey gravel path a grassy margin softened and underlined the view, and beyond that the pool. Beyond that again at a comfortable distance from all humankind, squawking waterfowl filled the space with noise that carried across the water. Floating and flapping, flying about to escape pecking and skid-landing, they animated and enlivened the place.
Cool to say the least, was an early November breeze that repeatedly stroked the back of my neck. To the front though, broken occasionally with long shadows cast from passers by, the sun warmed me through. I could feel the heat of those rays on my face, the backs of my hands and legs, and it was super welcome.
After a few minutes, there was a long pause in people walking by, and I felt safe closing my eyes for a while in order to tune in to my breathing and the sounds around. When I surfaced a little while later, I noticed more clearly than before the brightness levels, a freshness to the breeze, and real warmth. That light and heat would vanish periodically as clouds swooshed by, changing the atmosphere in every second, yet out in that park at that time, I knew I had the right seat. Not one those cold metal benches back amongst the flower garden, as pretty as they were, but there on solid wood, in that place and in that moment. Simplicity, for me, often wins the day.
Speaking of that place around me, it held a picture wherever I turned my head. Some scenes were still full of foliage and vitality, some were dull, muddy and middling, whilst some displayed drama with trees baring their branches and readying for winter. All scenes however were intricate, offering depth, character, detail and presence, and were riddled with history and intrigue.
A stone’s throw away and growing in the grassy verge were butter yellow, pencil thick stems which had exploded months ago from a stooled willow shrub. To the rear and left of me, a large candy floss sized cluster of blood red leaves shivered in the midst of a head high mountain ash sapling, and much further away bronze leaves on a stressed parkland oak glowed, backlit by sunshine.
I am fortunate, I realise, in knowing that it was one of many landscape scenes that has filled my eyes over the years, they’re seemingly here, there and everywhere. Yet in our increasingly unstable world, I now feel that I may just have taken them for granted, for too long. As I sat there in that moment however, I realised that I couldn’t be more thankful.
I understood that the twisted trees that decorated the view would not be everlasting, and despite dropping acorns by the thousand this mast year, those oaks would not regenerate easily without help. Even the stout ash trees that lined the pool side walk were visibly failing with disease.
So whilst I sat there processing thoughts and minding my business, I couldn’t help but wonder if cupping my hand over my eyes was intended to screen sunshine in my eyes, or to momentarily block some of the issues that stared in my face. The landscape’s threats, be they to flora and fauna, or the historic fabric of the place itself, were inescapable.
Nevertheless, whilst I sat there absorbing that cleverly laid out picturesque scene, I realised that ‘having the moment’ was the very reason I’d ventured there in the first place. In real-time I understood the tension and frailty that existed in each of the three-sixty degrees around me, yet I knew that really, all was as well as could be.
On a personal note, what mattered then as I sat on that bench and matters still as I reflect, is the fact that those moments happened at all: the sun’s heat warming my skin, the chilly breeze, the cawing crows, quacking ducks, rattling leaves, crunchy gravel and clanging gates at the end of the path. Even muffled but violent engines of ascending passenger planes and cars in the distance.
The place, despite its historic pedigree and legal protections, aside from funding challenges and changing management; will continually change, adapt and evolve. The birds I watched playing, the mowing sheep and growing trees, even us people who occupied the space between; we shall all move on. It is all fine as we’re all just passing through, so we might as well pause awhile, grab a seat, take notice, and make the best of each moment.
Everywhere I listened, everywhere I sniffed and looked, I felt a professional connection, but more than that, I felt a personal, almost spiritual connection. Be it the soggy soil, the murky pool or the silvery clouds up over; I had made time to see, to smell and listen, and I feel every bit as connected now as a write these words as I did whilst rooted to that bench.
Today or tomorrow or maybe next week, you might find a place to connect too, and I wish you the the very best. 🌿
Thanks for clicking on the link to ‘Writing from my happy place’. It’s been a while since I was last here with you, but I’m delighted to be back, and so glad you’ve joined me.
As said I haven’t blogged for a while because I’ve sort of been away with the garden faeries; I’d have mentioned this sooner was it not for the fear of judgement, or people losing faith in me. But here I am once again, back in the blogosphere and speaking openly – for better or for worse.
Whilst moving through the last few years it is fair to say that I’ve experienced a good deal of change, most notably in my working days, and gardening ways. I’m certainly not alone, as many others have experienced similar too, leading lots of people to reflect more, to refocus, and re-evaluate their situations – my head has been in that space too.
Many have held steady career courses and weathered these turbulent times with confidence, but many have not, and have looked for positive change in new situations. As you probably know, I sought change, and whilst my endeavours barely got out of second gear, I do believe that every step of the way made a lasting and positive difference – not only to each place, I trust, but to me personally. I certainly churned a lot of compost over the last few years!
On reflection though, I’m coming to realise that the last few years have been somewhat experimental for me, where subconsciously I might have simply needed a new focus. If only I’d figured this out sooner I may not have frustrated those around me, or those further afield who watched on in bewilderment.
Experimental or not, those years have certainly been engaging, and pretty taxing too, and I’ve met some fabulous people and spent time in the most incredible places – Indeed I’ve been very fortunate. It has though become harder in recent months to continue blogging with as much freedom as before, and my Gardening Ways posts have dwindled.
At this point though, having found a little more stability in my working days, I’ve started questioning what to do with my blog. Should I develop and adapt the posts, if so how? Shall I shift focus to allotment gardening, or pick up on my garden and parks consultancy work somehow? Or, has the blog run its course, and is it time to call it a day? Your thoughts are of course welcome.
It might not seem like a big issue to some, but I’ve poured an awful lot of time into this blog over the years. It’s frustrating then, that I’ve struggled to deal with not blogging so often over the last few months, but I can reassure that my work with Gardening Ways is not done yet.
The turning point, if it was one, was a week or so ago when a proverbial apple fell out of the tree, and I realised something fundamental to this whole blogging dilemma. I’ve therefore made time to produce this very different post, both to record the point where my blogging world pivots, and reason why. Apologies if you were expecting pretty floral pictures by the way…maybe next time!
Firstly, my shift this year from working in frontline horticulture to consulting has meant that I now physically experience far fewer melancholic sunrises or soul nourishing sunsets. I enjoyed no professional propagating for borders or plant sales in spring, and there were no topiary shapes to clip in summer. Next week, there will be no ‘work’ pumpkins to carve or bird feeders to make for events, and my annual mowing mileage has literally dropped off the chart! I’ve practically switched from garden deliverer, to garden influencer you could say.
To those ends, it would seem that the daily free delivery of experiences, or fuel that I previously used to stoke my creative blogging furnace, disappeared overnight in January. That sudden perceived loss of fuel led to my heavily preened garden Journal posts fading away like dying coals in the grate, and that’s caused some feeling of frustration.
Secondly, I have on the whole considered Gardening Ways to be a blogging venture only, somewhere to post much loved images and support them with text, and not anything more. I’d be the first to say that it was never a writing voyage, at least not in the traditional sense, it was a place to record, to relate, and to be present; and I needed it for some reason.
I will admit though, that at one point I do remember adjusting all my ‘social’ labels to that of gardener and garden writer, in the hope that somehow the label itself might evolve me into one. But, did I really expect myself to carry the notion forward when every day I’d return to the task of gardening itself, and every night my eyes would be tired and creativity diminished?
In any case, deep down did I really possess the words to shift from blogger to writer? Evidently I thought not, as I remember it wasn’t long before I deleted those labels as it felt fraudulent, and I’ve stayed away from such labels to this day.
Furthermore, I’d say that I haven’t classed myself a writer because, whilst I might have secretly harboured those ideas, did I ever seriously consider making them reality? More often I occupied myself by playing things safe, and focusing on being a better gardener.
I now realise that I’ve been missing something, not just blogging in its physical sense, of delivering messages on the theme of gardening, but all of the creative process. I’ve not exactly sat around doing nothing, but over the last few months I’ve missed those hours of editing and creating articles off the back of random images. I’ve also missed the nervous anticipation of hitting that publish button and exposing my words to the world.
So where’s all this preliminary talk leading us? Well, I’ve realised that garden writing is not a skill you’re born with, but one you develop; alongside skills for sparking creativity and editing. Obviously, some people seem naturally talented, as in any walk of life, but whilst I’m certainly not elevating myself too high, there is hope that with a little practice and tuition, I could get there. (Wherever ‘there’ is of course!)
I’ve recognised very recently that writing can be a planned, mechanical, creative process, so why this hasn’t struck me before I just don’t know. I mean, I have followed my own procedures and developed routes to a blog post, but I’d rarely say that my posts displayed real creativity, far from it. If anything, my blog writing processes might actually have suppressed it.
The trigger, which for the time being will stay under wraps, has made me realise that the behind-the-scenes creative process of writing itself; has driven me all along. Every photo or video clip I’ve snatched each day has also been part of that process, but aside from gardening itself, I’m never more engaged or in-the-moment than when I’m doing this – writing.
Every time I’ve sat down to write, sometimes out of desire, sometimes out of duty, the words roll like autumn leaves blowing across a lawn. Some will catch on a noticeable shrub here, others will roll to a lichen covered bench there, but most often they’ll assemble in a tidy-ish pile for collection, and distribution.
OK, so I can openly say that I’ve started more posts than I finished, and deleted more words than I’ve ever published, but I now understand that to be a normal part of the process. All this time I’ve cursed myself for not having the ability to evolve into a writer, and not understanding that it’s really a skill that can be developed, honed and improved.
Looking ahead, I’m not saying that articles will suddenly flow thick and fast, because in many ways I’m still getting to grips with where I am and where I want the blog to go; combined with the fact that I’m really seeing this post as a new beginning. Equally, I know I have quite a job ahead to break from the structure of my previous articles, a posting style that I’ve desperately wanted to change for a long while. Overall, if it matters to you at all, I can at least assure that I shall be working on my writing in the days ahead, and in the process I hope, figuring out who I am, and what I want to say.
So there you have it, these words might have received some editing, but I’ve spoke openly and honestly about where I’ve been, and why. I’ve not rushed it, although I might have overthought it somewhat, and I’ve enjoyed the process more this time. Let’s hope it doesn’t come back to haunt me.
I’ll come back soon, for sure, but not so soon as to force an article. I’ll be aiming to produce something that comes from my new found creative and happy place; and I can’t wait to see where the words take us. Who knows, maybe one day from my happy place, a book or magazine article might pop out; we shall just have to see.
Thanks for sticking with me through all of the above, I really do appreciate your time and equally, I’d really appreciate your thoughts and comments. Do feel free to DM me on Instagram or Twitter if that’s easier, but I’d love to hear from you either way.