Under scorching sunshine, daughter #3 and I walk out across the black soil of a floodplain to a garden. This one has bright green clumps of chilli plants, rosemary, egg plants and other tantalising offerings but it’s all a bit of a mess and some of it is dead.
Just being here reminds me of my father’s, and my grandfather’s, love of plunging their fingers into rich earth, raking out a smooth bed, planting seeds and then mothering it all until the green shoots rise up out of the darkness. Their passion passed on to me but never went very far. Fortunately, my wife has it too and our daughter has caught it quite seriously, probably always had it (like one of those seeds) lying there and waiting for the moment.
We wander up and down rows of earth with bedraggled plants. Half the plot is a swamp and the other half is dry as chips. My daughter looks out at one lonely plant on a far corner and wonders if it’s a particular herb—the name she uses escapes me.
A gardener finds it hard to resist a neglected patch like this, especially when there’s plenty of water nearby and people to feed: a river in fact and a community of twenty or so. But if that was all there was to our fascination with this garden, we would be falling under the spell of the banal and soul-less vision of our world, a world that has already lost the respect of garden spirits.
If you don’t believe me, try visiting your garden late at night or just before sunrise. You are likely to agree with GK Chesterton that “One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows: the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”1
1 GK Chesterton, Robert Browning from www.goodreads.com/quotes/