Nine months- a summer, a spring and a winter ago- we took on a patch of earth. It was January, it’s Britain, the previous owners didn’t leave behind a massive amount of inspiration. The place looked cold and tired, like life in greyscale. Dreams of the good life in this patch of earth seemed distant. The willow tree is now full of leaf and life and shades our little shed. But in January, it stood stark against the slowly rotting pumpkins, plastic and weeds.
The soil was compacted. Weedkillers had been used. Before we had arrived there had been no plan.
I wanted to breathe life and beauty and productivity back into the earth. But some things you can’t rush- after being compacted and poisoned by sprays, soil takes time to heal. I spread barrow after barrow of leaf litter, cow muck from a friend’s farm and even hops that smelt of sweet beer onto the beds. Over the months it became one with the soil, and gave me a space I could sow into.
By the time it was mid spring, we had made the beds and the first of the crops were in. We knew were on the right path. We built the shed- four months of building- alongside shaping the plot, and suddenly we had a base, a centerpiece, of our plot.
As late spring rolled into midsummer, we stood back and looked at what we had done. Nine months ago here was a lifeless space, a space with no heart. Here, now, there is a plot with colour and life- and hopes of spring after the winter that’s sliding towards us.
When you are working with the earth, it’s never just physical. Don’t view gardening as a list of tasks. Planting, nurturing, eating is always much more than that.
It is the height of summer. The days are still and long, and after sunset, light lingers in the midnight sky.
At no other point in the year is there more energy for growth. After rainfall, the earth is warm and damp and it is perfect for life to thrive.
After a morning of rain, I visited the plot. Along the pathways, ryegrass hung heavy under the weight of a nights rain. In the salad bed, the reds and greens of the leaves stood stark against the black earth. Egg shells and coffee grounds lay on the ground in a vain (but non-toxic) attempt to deter the slugs.
We have been eating our first strawberries of the year. No moment is sweeter. I have sown wildflowers in and left ‘weeds’ and now there is a bed of blooded berries and sprawling leaves.
Here and there I have planted nasturtiums. Their leaves are punchy and spiky with heat and pepper and their flowers are the colour of summer. Raindrops collected on them like glistening jewels.
In late May and early June, the chives burst into flower, and they are perfect for picking and scattering into dinner.
Walking the plot, picking, eating, will never fill my belly but it brings together months of work and rolling skies and nothing could be more satisfying.
With some seed in my hand and a little earth in which to sow, things feels good. Sowing a seed is sowing a promise- a promise of life and growth, and at the end of it, a promise of something to put on my plate. All you need is a few pots, a little compost and seeds of whatever you like to eat. Put them on a windowsill and give them a little water and before long, you will see signs of life.
Salad, herbs, chillis and corn have burst into life on my little windowsill. Suddenly I have something to nurture, with the hope of long summer days and food to pick.