A walk in the garden

This post is actually going to begin with a walk I took yesterday. This was the first time I have recreationally gone out for a walk, in my favourite walking spot, since my surgery. I went without crutches for a wander by the canal, and got a lovely recording of the weir, which I’ve been able to put up on the listen page of the Fantastical Reality Radio Show website. The weir is very loud and the water funnels out over large, concrete zig-zags which look very much like teeth, or the side of a zipper. For these reasons we call the wier ‘The Dragon.’

My feet hurt a lot and my pace is slow, but it is lovely to be able to go walking again… the scars are still not totally healed and I am meant to be keeping up the bandaging (I’m not doing so well at that in the summer heat…) so the lovely handknit socks I’ve been stockpiling will have to wait a while longer. I have always felt, with sore feet, that it is loveliest of all to walk on the soft, green earth. It is much less jarring to all those little bones, than concrete. So today, I’m going to bring you on a walk through my garden, which is very joyous at the moment and full of lovely things I’ve been nurturing and planting for the past few months.

I will begin with the tobacco flowers that are doing so well in their new bed. I have always wanted to plant tobacco since reading Alice Walker’s amazing essay ‘My Daughter Smokes.’ The essay is contained in ‘Living by the word’ and has this to say on the topic of the tobacco plant.

…finally, one must feel empathy for the tobacco plant itself. For thousands of years it has been venerated by Native Americans as a sacred medicine. They have used it extensively – its juice, its leaves, its roots, its (holy) smoke – to heal wounds and cure diseases, and in ceremonies of prayer and peace. And though the plant as most of us know it has been poisoned by chemicals and denatured by intensive mono-cropping and is therefore hardly the plant it was, still, to some modern Indians it remains a plant of positive power…Perhaps we can liberate tobacco from those who have captured and abused it, enslaving the plant on large plantations, keeping it from freedom and its kin, and forcing it to enslave the world. Its true nature suppressed, no wonder it has become deadly. Maybe by sowing a few seeds of tobacco in our gardens and treating the plant with the reverence it deserves, we can redeem tobacco’s soul and restore its self-respect. Besides, how grim, if one is a smoker, to realise one is smoking a slave.

I gave up smoking myself around three years ago and this essay definitely contributed to the long list of reasons to do so. I love plants and Walker’s reasoning here for planting tobacco as an act of restoration and freedom, appealed to my artist mind presumably as it did to Walker when she idly wondered about the imaginative consequences of planting tobacco, for its own sake, in our gardens.

Plants have history, are political, can unbalance economies and sway national decision-making, and grow both because of, and in spite of, our decisions. Tobacco is one of the most political and controversial plants around and I like to have it in my garden to remind me of the power of the plant politic and by way of compensation for all the years I spent supporting the tobacco industries with my habit.

Nasturtiums are also plants that mean a lot to me, personally; they are the first thing I ever grew. I remember the excitement of those first seed-packets and the delight at the apparently effortless way the flowers came. Nasturtiums remind me of being young and small and of learning new things and the flowers look beautiful in salads.

This is my small madder plant; its bloody red roots were an awesome sight when I transplanted it.

It is not doing as well as the huge madder plant:

Which lives beside the Woad I began growing last year in pots in Oxford. The Woad is doing really well.

It reminds me very much, in appearance, of the Calendula that Caroline sent to me, but I managed to forget to photograph that when I was walking (slowly) around the garden today. I did get a picture of the pumpkins that are growing from seeds she sent me, though, complete with Messy Tuesdays garden mess:

Meanwhile, here is a poppy growing from Caroline’s Irish Organic Centre seeds. She saved a seedhead for me, wrapped it in brown paper, tied it with yarn, and sent it in a bundle with many others and everytime I look at it I am glad for my friends.

The final few things to show you on this ‘walk’ are meadowsweet, growing from seeds I gathered with Mark at a nature reserve. As well as producing a black dye, this plant is a natural source of salicylic acid, otherwise known as aspirin. The tincture you make from it smells like almond essence and is very, very bitter to drink;

Love-in-a-mist; one of the flowers I learned about when I worked in The Flower Box in Dublin…

…and an arum, which is waiting to unfurl itself any day soon.

I love how the garden connects me to so many things and how being in it allows me to think about so many things that are deeply important to me. There is a satisfaction in having muddy knees, grubby fingernails and grass-stained pants that says to me ‘nothing’s ever properly finished…’

I want to finish this post with one last thing in my garden. Let us observe the lovely sunflowers. These were grown from the Manifest seed packets we sent out as seedpackets last year for our MA graduation show. I think of all the other artists on the programme whenever I look at the seeds and they remind me of continuation, fruition, friendship…

The Sunflowers that these plants will produce are for Vicky Cox; may there be gardens full of sunshine wherever you are now.

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