Sunflowers and Trees

Gardening is one of my passions; I am the first to admit I know nothing about it, really only self-taught, trial and error bumbling along. I must say straight away that I am not into digging and growing vegetables, nor are there regimented beds of colour-coordinated seasonal flowers found on our patch.

I do have a mismatch of shrubs, hedging, and trees, all at various stages of cultivation in pots on the patio. Sycamore, beech, horse chestnut and ash rub shoulders with gorse, pyracanthas, olives and a ten-foot-tall Australian lemon eucalyptus grown from seed who spends eight months of the year in the greenhouse as it cannot tolerate frost. It is looking a bit forlorn these days, but whilst it is alive, relatively healthy and can get through the greenhouse door, it can stay.

Interspersed with these slow-growing beauties, there are herbs; rosemary, parsley, lavender. Spring colour comes from the hardy snowdrops, daffodils, tulips and primroses, with the wildlife eating the crocuses as soon as they appear. Wild poppies, honesty, buttercups, daisies and dandelions self-seed everywhere and are, for the most part, left to their own devices.

I am, however, ruthless with bindweed, brambles and that awful sticky stuff that all grow faster than you can pull them up. Nettles are also prolific along the sides of the ditch. Only those encroached across the boundaries are pulled up, leaving the rest as a haven for aphid earing ladybirds. 

Every year I harvest seeds; poppy, plum, acanthus to sow in the spring. I take cuttings from shrubs and dig up tiny saplings that appear everywhere. Not everything is a success, although three of my four olive trees were grown from seed, I have not been successful with their offspring yet and every lemon pip that germinates only lasts a few months wherever it is housed.

Fifteen years ago, we visited Sherwood forest, and I collected a handful of acorns, two germinated and one of those survived to be planted in the garden. Oak trees take 15 to 20 years to reach maturity and produce their own fruit, so I am starting to be hopeful for the prospect of having a second-generation oak in the next few years.

photo of tree covered with snow

The Oak Tree

Two years ago a friend gave me a couple of sunflower heads, they were as big as dinner plates, the seeds tightly packed together. Once dried out the seeds were harvested, saved and potted up early last spring. They quickly germinated and the plan was to share them out around the family.

This was not to be, due to the restrictions in place and family contact not being an option, plus the fact that giant sunflowers grow at the same speed as weeds meaning they would not fit into anyone’s car if they did come to collect them so there we were with a glut of strong, healthy plants. It seemed wrong to throw them on the compost heap, so we kept them, watering them and eventually marvelled at their height, over ten feet tall and one almost twenty!

The flowers were beautiful, gently swaying in the breeze or sometimes toppling over, needing to be propped up against the fence, tied to drainpipes, pots wedged together for support. Every day was different as they grew, flowered and eventually died. Their value far outweighed any expectations, and once cut down, some seeds saved for this spring and the rest left for the birds.

The sunflowers were spectacular and gave us endless pleasure but whilst watering and caring for them, and it was important to ensure that everything else was nurtured and cared for. Everything grows at a different pace, and trees are rather slow until established, but then there is no holding them back as the root system digs in to provide nutrients for the next fifty years.

Some of the shrubs and trees will be going out this year, forming a new hedge down the field side of the garden. As they grow, they will help to protect the less hardy plants from the harsh north wind and provide shelter and nesting space for the birds.

I have already planted this years crop of sunflowers and I am thankful that everyone will be able to come and collect their share, we might even have competition to see whose grows the tallest.

So what would happen if I gave you a handful of seeds from my garden and you planted them. Some would race on making leaves and outgrowing their pots before others had even broken the soil. What would you do? Would you have the patience to keep watering and feeding the slow to germinate, or would they be discarded for the faster, more exciting varieties? 

Gardening like life is all about balance and being in the flow, and it is important to keep the weeds down whilst promoting new growth. Having beautiful flowers to raise your spirits but also being able to cultivate your vision for the future.

Gardening is also not about controlling the environment and the seasons but working with them. We have had a frost almost every day in April, so plans had to change, some jobs delayed, others put on hold until next year. This did not mean I was disappointed or despondent; it gave me more time to sit in the greenhouse, reflect on how grateful I am for this beautiful space and plan my next moves.

black metal gate near green plants

The Wonder of Gardening

And you, what keeps you in balance, in the flow. Have you thought recently about your next moves? Perhaps you are still recovering from the past year and taking stock, feeling a bit lost or overwhelmed, or you may be raring to go and filled with inspiration.

However you are feeling, and whatever you are doing, please bear in mind that everything goes in cycles like the seasons. There are many things we cannot know but have faith in. There will always be growth, life, death and regeneration, whether it is a plan, an idea or a dream.

Even if gardening isn’t your thing aim to live your life like a gardener, be patient, plant things that will mature in both the short and long term, respect nature, remove weeds and pests and most importantly cultivate good growth. 

Heather Wood – Guide, Medium, Therapist

April 2021

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