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Who knows where the time goes...


Earlier this month, someone – rather carelessly – told me that it was only a few weeks until the longest day. This couldn’t be. As far as I was concerned, we were still drifting in the comet tail of an interminable winter. Spring hadn’t even set out her stall yet, but suddenly, here was summer, galloping way ahead of herself in a frenzied attempt to reach some arbitrary finishing line. It wasn’t fair. I wasn’t ready yet.

We gardeners – or maybe it’s just me – have a heightened, often frenetic relationship with time.

On a macro level, I blame the seasons.

In winter, time slows down. Often to a snail’s pace. All those short dark days of low horizons and even lower pulse rate. The clock ticks slowly. Of course, there’s plenty to do. Cutting back and pruning. Mulching and tidying. Chopping logs and making bonfires. And planning of course. Lots of planning – lists and lists of things to do, all in preparation for some half-remembered, half-forgotten notion of spring, that fabled land beyond the wild woods.

For me, it’s mid-January that the yearning sets in proper. Christmas, for what it’s worth, is done. A handful of those pitch-perfect winter days – achingly clear skies and a conjuring of hoar frost – have sustained me just enough to forestall my winter wanderlust. But enough is enough. I thirst for spring. There are signposts, of course: the snowdrops and the winter aconites and the hellebores and wood anemones. All signs of life limbering up. But this liminal space between winter and spring is full of false starts, and it makes me kind of jumpy.

It’s only when the apple blossom finally appears, and the dawn chorus becomes full throated, that I feel I’m in safe waters. For a moment everything is perfectly poised. The sap is rising, the buds are swelling, life is dreaming itself into being before my very eyes. It brings out the optimist in me. But this is, of course, when time gets her skates on. First the scillas and forget-me-nots, the brunnera and pulmonaria. The harbingers. Then, bold as brass, the tulips announce themselves, and the race is on. Slow down, slow down, I think, we’ve waited so long; why not take a breath, spring, pull up a pew and let’s chew the fat a while. But spring’s not listening. The impulse to gun ahead, to grow and bud and bloom and set seed, and have the whole shooting match done and dusted, runs deep, and I can’t keep up.

You should have seen it last week. Surely this must be one of the most common phrases in the gardening lexicon. You know those moments, when suddenly, whether by design or by luck, everything comes together at once. For a fleeting moment it’s all there, a perfect commingling of colour and form and shape and texture. The heights are right. The spacing is right. Everything is singing in perfect harmony. At least, to your ears. And of course, this is when you want time to – quite literally – stand still. Because there’s no one here to experience it. And you just know that next week, when your gardening buddies are coming round, and you really, really want to show off just how brilliant you are, well then, of course, the poppy petals, which were hanging on by a wing and a prayer, will have finally blown, the roses’ first blush will have paled, and the grasses will have prostrated themselves beneath an unseasonal flash flood.

Sound familiar?

But we gardeners are nothing if not fickle. Because once that moment is gone, we’re impatient for the next one. And then, when it all gets too much, too hot or too dry or too ragged for our tastes, we’re only too ready to wrap it all up. A couple of weeks ago, one of my fellow gardeners, knee deep in a parched border, declared, ‘That’s me done with summer, roll on autumn!’ I rest my case. We want time to bend to our will, to slow down or speed up, to pause or to leap forwards, all depending on our particular sensibility at a given moment in time.

Of course, what we need to do, what we should do, is embrace this moment, because right here, right now that’s all there is, and there’ll never be another like it. And maybe if I really try I can apply this philosophy – call it zen, call it equanimity, call it what you will – to my gardening too.

And so, here we are, three arid, very un-June-like weeks later, facing another summer solstice and all that this foretells. And you know what, I’m OK with that. After all, there’s nothing I can do about it – time marches on regardless of my wishes and my needs. And nature too. Nature dances to her own tune, guided by her own temporal imperative, and I’m the one who should be falling in step with her, not the other way round.

And if this doesn’t convince, I’m sure that somewhere out there in the horticultural multiverse, there’s a parallel version of my garden – and yours – which, no matter the time, no matter the season, is perfectly primed for maximum impact right this very instant. And the next. And the next…

Now, wouldn’t that be a thing.

Picture credit: Dona Crisfield


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