I Shall Be A Gardener

On Friday I cried – not wept, cried. This is not usual.
Then I got angry – very, very angry. This also is not usual.
But the reason for these reactions was even more unexpected.

Centenary Square, Birmingham - London Plane tree cut down (32985799131)
On Thursday there were six mature pohutukawa trees flourishing along the nearby main road, providing shelter, shade, beauty and birdsong. On Friday there were six broad stumps. Two more pohutukawa on my street are also under sentence of death.

This was made all the more painful by the fact that none of the local residents had been consulted, nor even warned we were to lose the trees. The first I knew of it was the sight of stumps, and the severed limbs being fed into a chipper. I cried. I got angry. And there was nothing I could do.

Despite being several decades old (I don’t know the date they were planted, but they were there in 1958), these trees were being eradicated – felled and fed into chippers – for three reasons. The power-lines strung over them could be affected (which is why many of the local trees already have deep Vs cut out of their middles); the footpaths laid over their root systems tend to crack over time; and the design of the new housing development calls for driveways where the trees are. Were.

There was nothing I could do. I was angry – no, I was enraged – that in this day and age it was considered acceptable to destroy such trees, carbon sinks and habitat of native wildlife as they are, in favour of metal and cement.

Pruned pine by power lines
I was even more angry that the local government’s “Urban Forest Plan” forbids replacing those trees. (Judging purely from its effects in my area, it seems more like a Concrete Jungle Plan, but one imagines they are planting trees somewhere. It’s just that I haven’t found where yet.)

So I turned my thoughts to what I could do, and the first thing that came to mind in my tack-spitting state was guerilla gardening. But it will be some time before the trucks stop grinding to and fro and the soil settles on the “reinstated” (i.e. grassed) ex-treed area, and in any case, before one can be a guerilla gardener, one must be a gardener.

I have been living in this city for nine years now (in three different houses) and after three years in my own home it is beginning to dawn on me that I might just… stay. As someone who was fourteen before she’d lived 12 consecutive months in one house, this is difficult to really grasp. But I think I am finally putting down my roots (albeit in trepidation lest they be hauled up again).

So I am going to garden. Not just the annual maintenance of pruning – no, I am going to plant, and tend, and plan, and by golly, this patch of ground is going to flourish. There will be trees (putting the utu in pohutukawa?), there will be flowers, there will be herbs and vegetables and as little grass as I can get away with.

Claire Gregorys Permaculture garden
I shall enrich soil and foster seedlings and propagate cuttings and stake tomatoes and scarlet runner beans. I shall slowly but surely (and organically) eradicate the weeds and the codling moth and the passion vine hopper. (And the citrus borer. *shakes fist*)

Of course, I have other responsibilities in my life, and I don’t propose to lose all sense of proportion and go feral. But I am convinced that gardening will not only be good for the land and the air and the neighbourhood and the climate generally, but it will be good for me. The fresh air will be good for me. The exercise will be good for me. The satisfaction of knowing that I was distressed and enraged and helpless but I’m doing something will be good for me.

Yesterday the tree-choppers and tree-chippers roared around us, and I planted some coriander. Today they fed more plant life into the chipper, and I weeded a patch and planted potatoes in it. Tomorrow they may be gone, but I’ll still be here, and I’ll still be gardening.

Antos Frolka Gärtnerin
Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret, as Horace observed. You can drive Nature out with a pitchfork [or a chainsaw], but she will keep coming back. Sometimes by invitation.

Making it Happen

Ten years ago I had a dream: a dream of making a beautiful quilt for a friend. Something warm and cosy; something to curl up under while watching classic movies and sipping cocoa on a winter afternoon.

Crazy Quilt, 1884

I went for it.
Did I make a perfect little lap quilt? I did not. Did I make a comfortably-sized one-person wrap quilt? I did not. Did I make a freakishly over-ambitious monster crazy quilt with emphasis on the crazy?
Well, no. I started one.

I chugged away at it, but it was not long before I realized it was not going to be finished in time for the intended birthday. It’s been bundled in and out of boxes and bags and wardrobes ever since, worked on here and there, added to in fits and starts, but mostly just taking up space and making me feel guilty.

If I’m honest, this one project was a big part of my decision to make 2015 my Year of Finishing Things. Over the years it had become symbolic of my lack of self-discipline, my good intentions never followed through, and my failure to finish anything I started.


Not surprisingly, all the feelings bundled up with this UFO (Unfinished Fabric Object) made me reluctant to go near the thing, let alone commit to the many, many hours it would take to finish it. But it was still there, a big fat purple plug between me and moving on. So this year, I decided, I was going to get it out of the way. I was going to finish it, and thus become a Person Who Finishes Things.

I had the best of intentions, and when those failed, I made a rough plan. That made a bit of progress, which then fizzled out, so I made a more detailed plan. Which I didn’t keep. Then I made an even more detailed plan, which led to more progress, which also fizzled out. I even made a place for it in my schedule.

What I didn’t make was a commitment. If I was already doing something else, if I didn’t feel up to it, if I just didn’t want to, I didn’t. I still wanted it done, I just didn’t want to do it. No – that’s not quite right. I wished it were done – but I didn’t want to do it.

I did do bits here and there, but the small amount of progress I made was swallowed up by the magnitude of the undertaking. The quilt top is 155cm wide and 200cm long (about 5ft by 6 1/2), and has perhaps a hundred pieces, each with multiple edges to sew, embroider and embellish. Not quite big enough for the Great Bed of Ware, but it’s felt like it at times.

Bed of Ware

But the only way out is through, and there were some things I did that helped.

First, I sat down and asked myself what the obstacles were that prevented me working on it. A big one was the amount of time and effort involved just to get it out, spread it out, figure out where to work next, and put it away again at the end – if I could only find half an hour at a time, just handling it would eat most of that.

So I found somewhere where I could leave it folded and rolled, with the active part spread out in the middle. I made it easy for myself to just sit down and do a bit. I worked on one area at a time, so I could see and gauge my progress. I also borrowed and downloaded audiobooks (legally) to listen to as I stitched away.

I haven’t finished it yet – there’s still the centre section to embellish, as well as the attaching of the backing fabric to the front. I may not finish it by the end of the liturgical year (28th November, this year) but I will have it finished by the end of the calendar year.


I don’t know if the intended recipient will even want it – or indeed if she ever wanted it – but I’m not doing it just for her any more, I’m doing it for me. She can use it, regift it, or donate it to the SPCA for dog bedding; I won’t mind.

It will be finished, and I will be a person who finishes things. It has long been a failing of mine to launch straight into an over-ambitious project without working my way up via smaller, more manageable projects.
I think I’m cured now.

The Artist's Way: A Sense of Catching Up

Covering July: a Sense of Connection, August: a Sense of Strength, and September: a Sense of Compassion.
Lightly covering – a crisp linen sheet, say, rather than a fat and puffy quilt.

July revealed such gems as “I believe I am getting better at socks” (knitting them, not the Pratchett kind) and “I feel more possible” (although the Caped Gooseberry assures me I am not only possible, but actual – I think my meaning may have escaped him).
Also “As a kid, we never had enough: books” (whether you can have enough books is debatable; our perceived lack drove me to read encyclopaedias and Agatha Christie at the age of six, so it’s not all bad).

Reading the encyclopedia

August asked me to complete this sentence: In a perfect world I would secretly love to be a…
All right, there’s not much secret about it, but I want to be a full-time writer.
In five years’ time, I’d like to be writing full time with one novel published and two plays produced.
What can I do now to help make that happen?
Write hard on Mondays. Make the most of morning spaces. Get to bed on time.

I was also invited to select a role model. The three women who sprang to mind are not only among my favourite writers (international women of mystery) but are also all three writers who balanced novels and the theatre in some way or another: Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy Sayers.

mystery of marie roget set

The one woman who sprang to mind whom I most certainly do not wish to take for my pattern is P.D. James – at least having a DDJ until reaching retirement age. In the areas of literary achievement, faith and perseverance (not to mention the life peerage) I’d be most happy to follow her example.

Also, if I was a colour, I’d be russet: colour of earth and blood, rich cloth and poor, and the bindings of old books. The colour of autumn leaves, the colour of rust.

September brought an insight – I should stop calling myself lazy. I wrote “you may be scared, self-doubting and self-flagellating, feeling tired, heartsick and guilty – but you are not lazy.”

Procrastination isn’t the result of laziness, Cameron says. It’s the result of fear.  “Fear is what blocks an artist. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of not finishing. The fear of failure and of success. The fear of beginning at all.” (p.152)

There's no fear in love.

Another insight: “Over any extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline. Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment…” (p.153).

Much like marriage: you can’t stay in the same emotional state for 50 years, you need commitment. But commitment shouldn’t be replaced by discipline (hug two three! kiss two three!) because discipline isn’t rooted in love – except perhaps in love with how wonderfully disciplined we are!

The trick is to find our enthusiasm for the task at hand – and how to find it quickly in the pre-dawn dark when getting out of the nice warm bed seems like a particularly sadistic rebirthing technique.

As always, your wisdom welcomed! Or witty folly (better a witty fool than a foolish wit) – we’re not fussy here!

Sinistra Inksteynehand250