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.