Even though these planters look a bit ragged and rugged at the moment, they still bring me that little uplift that one needs when starting a long day of work.
Yesterday was a day at For Earth's Sake, and it was longer than usual. We had an additional meeting in the early evening - a Business Improvement District meeting - so my train back would be late. It's rarely a chore to travel down and visit Vanessa and the team, however multi-sequenced my trek... They're all working so hard to try and do good for the planet, its wildlife, flora and fauna and its people. Nothing to not enjoy being part of, though it is a trek; albeit giving one time to think, as public transport often does.... though more on this another time...
... going back to these planters!
It's early morning and the middle of winter and they're looking a little forlorn. In a few months' time some of this grouping will be flowering and giving up their yellow buds to commuters already weary and worn on their morning commute... I'm sure they are even more of a blessing during their evening trudge back to home! These planters, or rather the plants, are also adding a little fresh air, doing their carbon dioxide and oxygen thing that they do so well. These little green growing places, these oases that we often walk past without a care do lift the spirit, if you let them. I'm forever grateful that there are those willing to care for them; as part of their job or on a voluntary basis of one sort or another.
We had some planters at the top of our road which had "seen better days", sullen palms in them. Not really the ideal plant for this place at the outskirts of London, in my humble opinion... I suppose the council thought "plant a palm and you won't have to worry about it", though the rest of the human detritus that gathers in these planters is the main problem. You see, the issue isn't the palms... it's the people. At one time I thought about taking up the cudgel with these top-of-the-road travesties and doing some guerrilla gardening, though there's already a lot going on in our life and maybe that would've just been a step too far... Anyhow, now they are gone, and the space is more barren... ...
... going back to these planters!!
As I continued my journey to Cranleigh, I had a little outward smile and inward warmth at this little oasis of greenery; positioned awkwardly amidst the rolled steel tracks of railway lines, harsh steelwork hoardings, softening wooden fences, vibrant caution stickers, and the hard concrete, tarmac and slabs of the platforms.
Returning late last night, and passing through the station at a little past 11pm, I glanced over my shoulder at these planters again; through the cinematic little lit pods of travellers of the train as it trundled out of the station.
There they were... unsurprisingly... across on the other platform, in darkness yet lit up by the neon glow on the station. All quiet, and gentle, and resting...
One bus ride home and I would be doing the same.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 23
When we were in Guernsey the other day, mum started chatting about the houses that we have lived in over the years. She began with their first home, the one she and dad lived in when they were first married. Then the house that they built together with a States of Guernsey loan and where we grew up as a young family. The middle stages of our family life together came next at our house near the centre of the island; more convenient for dad to get to and from work and giving him more time at home. From there the move was to a brand new build on a small Clos, and from that home there was the one to where mum now lives, overlooking Belle Grève Bay, the islands and the White Rock where dad was a docker for much of his working life.
We then went back over the list, and the times that we spent at each. I noticed that these next memories were significantly around the gardens of each home.
The small garden in their first home, surrounded by vibrant farmland and in an area where and at a time when many still grew their own potatoes, some root veg and brassicas. Then at our next home, where I first came into being, was the beautiful lawn and vegetable garden that mum and dad created; a peaceful garden nourished by seaweed and which has formed the backdrop of photos of so many guests that stayed at mum and dad's B&B. From here was a move closer to dad's work, and for me my favourite garden of the homes in which we lived; one which was bordered on two sides by a growing bamboo fence line that seemed to stretch to the heavens and was as deep as any deep hedge can be. The dozen chickens would roam under the arching laburnum in their own vast chicken-wired homestead. We would grow in the greenhouse - tomatoes, melons and cucumbers - and Freddy the tortoise would hibernate in here overwinter, under the bench in a hay-stuffed box. My older brother kept pigeons in his pigeon hut; all fanciful feathers and courteous cooing. And then there was the seemingly vast area of orchard with eating apples, cooking apples, pears and a plum tree; trees ripe for climbing, pruning, fruiting and harvesting. Across the path was the ever so productive vegetable garden that dad would find his spare time in, and I would go and help him and learn and feel love. The leisure area of the garden was another large space sandwiched between here and the back of the house. A small-scale formal garden of canna lilies, fuchsia, hydrangea and strawberries sat alongside the vast patio where people would smile and parties would happen and the sun would forever shine. I guess these were very happy years; a family of five in full swing.
Moving on and downsizing, with the family with heartache doing the same, the gardens that mum and dad created around our Grande Rocque home were truly amazing, particularly considering there was nothing there to start with and that the base soil was significantly sand. There were wonderful borders edged with pink and blue granite and the bowling green lawns that dad created. These bowling green lawns were truly bare feet worthy; springy and soft, and lush and life-enhancing. I remember dad always having a little pocket knife with him; walking across the vibrant green lawn he would dip down and dig out a dandelion or daisy and they would get thrown on the compost heap. You see, dad wanted a pristine lawn, and that's exactly what his groundsmanship delivered. Then the palm trees went in, Cordeline Australis and a very spiky yucca that we smuggled back from Ibiza... sshhhh, don't tell! Mum would tend her roses and all the colour of the garden and the two of them would spend hours just being; the two of them in sync.
When it got to the stage where the garden and the painting of the house was really getting too much for them both, they decided to move to where mum lives now. A garden, of course, was essential, and if it be in many pots then that would do quite well.
Mum and dad chose an apartment on the ground floor where they have spent many countless hours sitting on the patio taking in the sun and the sea and the salty air. At one point there were 84 pots of varying shapes and sizes containing flowers of various sorts, though the ones that have always taken mum's fancy are Arum lilies, hydrangeas, and geraniums and pelargoniums. On any drive around the island we would pass a house that used to sell these colourful scented plants on the roadside, it was just around from Port Soif. Whatever variety they had, whether crinkle leaf or flat or variegated, and whatever colour, whether white or pink or crimson or purple, these were always called Port Soif plants - mum's Port Soif plants. Many of them still flourish now and are topped up with other plants each year, all from cuttings mum so studiously loves taking. As it's now winter, and all in the pots is pretty sparse apart from a few geraniums still holding on to a scrambling of flowers, we left mum with 200 blue LED lights rambling through the dead and dying branches of the plants in the pots. Many of these plants will be back out next year, including the geraniums, and particularly the hydrangeas with their resplendent vibrant mop heads replacing the dancing feathery dried pom pom heads which are on view today. In the meantime, it will be the bright blue gems of LED that will dance in the breeze and please the eye.
It was in this 15 or 20 minutes of chatter, whilst Richard had a shower, that it brought me back to the fact that I know so well... Gardens in all their many guises are a haven for the body and a haven for the soul.
We are beginning to learn of and understand the benefits of gardening and gardens, and how the act of gardening and the time of spending time in green open spaces and gardens, alone and with others, is so beneficial to our mental and physical health. What dawned on me as mum and I sat chatting about the plants, the layout, the weather, and the times of fun that had been had in all these homes was that the memories of gardens, outdoor spaces and wonderful places nourishes and can live with us forever. It is through these moments of memory that we roll back in time and space. It is in these moments of memory that we literally do travel in time.
I guess these times and these memories are where the seeds for The Guernsey Gardener in London were sown. And now I can share these moments with others, if they so wish.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 18
Sensing the past... (AGGIL 14)
Gosh, it was a rather busy and unexpectedly emotional day yesterday!
I said to Richard on Saturday that I wanted to make a Christmas Pudding, as it was Stir-Up Sunday this weekend which is the traditional day that people in the UK would make their Christmas Puddings; families all coming together and giving the mix a stir, each making a wish as they did so. It's obviously one of those traditions that is dying out swiftly now that we can go to any supermarket or corner shop and buy the pasty, sweet, microwaveable, unrecognisable Christmas Puddings that they sell these days. However, I was absolutely sure there is nothing like the real thing that mum used to make, and I wanted to make it. So make it we did!!
Now, I haven't made mum's Christmas Puddings for many decades. In fact, I don't think I've made a traditional Christmas Pudding since I last made one with mum when I must have been in my very, very early 20s.
Mum had given me one of her old cookery books some years back. It's an old Hamlyn cookery book with a pale blue cloth-like cover. The dust sheet has long been lost, and various splodges of cake batter and gravy now sit comfortably alongside the jaded and faded fake gold lettering on the cover binding. It wasn't actually the recipe for Christmas Pudding in the book that I was looking for though. You see, I knew that mum's handwritten recipe of HER Christmas Pudding was on a piece of paper cradled between two of the leaves of the book. I took Cooking In Colour off of my cookery book shelves (note... MY cookery book shelves, not OUR cookery book shelves!). I found the slip of mottled paper with red writing, and then remembered what I had known all along... the list of ingredients used and their weights was for 16 puddings, and I certainly didn't want to make 16!! So I set to and converted all of the ounces into grams and millilitres and then divided all of the total amount of each ingredient by 16. In the end, looking at the full list of ingredients and their weights for one pudding, I decided that I would do one and a half times this reduced amount of mix. It turned out that this was perfect for making 8 individual puddings; it was Richard's idea to make individual puddings rather than one large one, and I think that he had the right idea.
It was in the first moments of stirring this scented mix that the initial sense of the past came back to me... Standing around the dining room table with mum at my side and a huge plastic Tupperware in front of us. We would stir the mixture thoroughly, ensuring that everything was incorporated; no pockets of dry flour here, and no clumps of gooey, squidgy chopped prunes there. Just one unctious flavourful dried fruit, almond, sugar, suet, rum and stout paste. We'd have to take turns in doing the stirring as the quantity of mixture was so large it was really quite tiring on the arms!
My second sense of the past was when I could smell the puddings steaming. The gentle spicy aroma filled the kitchen, then our middle room, the ground floor, then the upstairs until the whole house was engulfed in scented memories. And boy did that aroma take me back decades again! I've obviously smelt Christmas Puddings over the decades, though none have given me this sense of days of old.
And then we jump forward to the tasting, and wowsers... didn't that bang me right back to being a child!! Sitting around the table at Christmas, with family and friends and some people that I didn't even know who they were. Presents had been opened and played with and the turkey carcass was sitting under tinfoil on top of the fridge. There we all were with our coloured paper Christmas cracker hats on, all feeling slightly boozy (even us youngsters as we were allowed Babycham!), terrible jokes had been read aloud, useless cracker gifts were spread around the tablecloth, some gleeful choir was singing updated carols and festive songs on the radio... and then would come mum's Christmas Puddings. Glistening. Flaming. And beautiful. In my opinion, heavenly. 😊
If you've seen the video of us making the Christmas Puddings you will see how I got rather overwhelmed by emotion. It was simply because the taste of this pudding just sent me back decades to all the memories above - to the joys of those people, of which too many are sadly no longer in our lives today, though they will live forever in our hearts... dad, my brother Perri, Aunty Phil, Uncle Len, Aunty Betty and Uncle Mick. Life is so short, yet it can also be so joyous.
And I guess that's the wonderful thing about food, along with many other daily necessities and luxuries.
In the depths of our minds we have so many memories that are associated with a smell or a taste or a sight or a sound, and even a touch. It's in moments like these, sometimes decades later, when these special times are relived, most often unexpectedly, that we're just taken back to our childhood or back to special moments of remembrance. It can be quite overwhelming, though it can also be so enriching too. I for one am so pleased that we have these moments as they highlight time's gone by; for me many are wonderfully sweet and happy whilst some are more bittersweet. However, these memories and events are part of the person each of us is today, and hopefully even more memories can be made for us to fall back to as we get older, and wiser, and remember.
And... as I sat in our front room this morning quietly doing the final edit of this blog before posting it, something quite lovely, unexpected and extraordinary happened, though this story will have to wait for another day...
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 14
Happy Calendulas (AGGIL 8)
Even though I love travelling by train, sometimes it can be a bit of a pain to get to one of our local stations. The journey can to often feel far longer than it actually is, especially during rush hour.
Yesterday, as I started my journey to visit my client For Earth's Sake in Cranleigh, the traffic in which my bus was travelling seemed a bit endless. It seemed we were literally inching closer and closer rather than happily trundling along in our charabanc.
However, once I got off the bus and started walking down to the station I passed this lovely area of community gardening. It really is something that lifts me each time I'm nearing the real start of my journey. There are areas on either side that are simply grass verges and weeds, and in their own way they would be lovely - if the detritus and plastic was regularly removed! However, it is this block of community gardening that always lift my heart. To see the Calendulas happily blooming away and a few other perennial plants now in place alongside explanations of how and why this community managed space is here, it literally put a spring back in my step.
So, as I mentally skipped down to the platform and my train came trundled in, I already had a smile on my face. It really is amazing how just these little happinesses can lift our day.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 8
A good life... (AGGIL 5)
As I looked across the Community Gardens this morning, before our rather wet and curtailed Saturday Social, I was overwhelmed with emotions for the journey this place set me off on almost five years ago.
A week before Christmas in 2014, I received the keys to a very local community gardens and the tenancy of the 3m by 3m growing space below. It was weedy yet had a pretty prolific perpetual spinach, a fabulous thyme and a fragrant fennel in situ. A few hours later, using our communal tools, I'd cleared all the weeds, dug the rich soil over and begun thinking about the growing year ahead.
It's from this quiet, contented few hours that my love of growing vegetables and fruits really began to return, and I started to benefit from working with my hands in the earth once more.
Over the next 10 months some things grew really well whilst others did the bare minimum of what I had hoped for; though to be frank everything was a success in my rose-tinted eyes!
At our Association AGM the following October, I put up my hand when they called for new committee members. At my first committee meeting a week or so later the Chair stood down, and I found myself the only person in the room with a little time on my hands. I thought it would be a fun and worthwhile project, and anyway I had an hour or two a month to spare. It's fair to say that I totally underestimated the amount of time and commitment this decision would eventually entail, and I also totally underestimated the amount of fun, value, friendship and fabulous community engagement I'd encounter along the way.
Having now been active in guiding the running of the Community Gardens for the past four years, alongside a fabulous and supportive committee, I'll be standing down as Chair at our AGM in early November. It seems the right time for myself AND the Community Gardens. With any organisation, the time comes for some to move on and for others take the reins; new energy and guidance reinvigorates to take things further and continue the success.
At our AGM we'll also be celebrating ten years from breaking ground on the Community Gardens - ten years of growing food, flowers, enhancing the ecology and environment and doing our bit in community development and enhancement. It seems the perfect time for another to take up the baton.
I'll keep my plot at the Community Gardens for another year, and remain on the committee. I'll be taking a back seat, though supporting whenever I'm needed and able. Our new Chair is already a very active member of the committee so the Community Gardens will be in solid and safe hands.
Little did I know when I took on my small growing space five years ago that it would lead to me being the Chair of trustees of Social Farms & Gardens today; an organisation that at the time I didn't even know. As a national charity, with members and offices in all four countries of the UK, we support and are a voice for over 1,300 community gardens, city farms, care farms, forest schools, school farms, orchard projects and lots of other community managed green spaces. My small role in this organisation is something I'm proud off and derive both benefit and satisfaction from.
There is no doubt that sometimes I find my time challenged. Though I work largely from my home office, and am regularly able to take an hour out of my day to attend the plots, my clients obviously need my time and energy too. Though I'm lucky to now love much of my work, the satisfaction I get from my voluntary work really grounds me, as do the benefits that I get from taking time to grow at my Community Gardens plot and our allotment plots.
So, as I stood this morning amidst a tangle of weeds and mud, with a tinge of cold in the air and rain tumbling down, I appreciated that though ours is by no means a perfect life, it is a good life.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 5
...long term partners.