Back gardens

So the spring has arrived finally. After one of the coldest early springs I can remember it’s finally warmed up. That’s coincided with what might well be some sort of biological need for spring cleaning. In particular I’m thinking at the moment about the drive I’ve got to clear my lovely back garden. I remember when we moved into the house in 2002. The back garden here is very very steep and when we moved in the land was practically toxic. The underlying land is made up of a lot of slag from steel mills and a variety of unpleasant things have been dumped in the garden over the years. Very steep but quite large for a Sheffield terrace house. There’s a flat area at the bottom which was really unusable when we first moved in and a set of very poorly constructed concrete steps that get you halfway down.

I recall very clearly saying to myself and perhaps to Saskia as well: “You know, this is the sort of garden that when people visit it in 10 years time they think it’s always already been like that. They don’t realise that it’s taken 10 years of patience and attention to get it there.”

Well it’s 15 years later and that’s not happened. Every year, to be honest not even every year, we put some labour into it but never enough to keep going through the season – to stop the convulvulus from overrunning everything that we plant. To the point that two apple trees have just been strangled out of existence. The things that have survived have done really well because the fact that they survived means they’re really strong and in the right place, suitable to the soil and the light et cetera. But it is always sad to look on the garden, it’s not even a symbolic representation of some sort of psychological failure. It’s just simply a material example.

When spring comes, along comes the spring cleaning urge. The material need to clear it up. And yes, of course, the psychological recognition that comes with increased light. The real turning point of the year is now.

And my thought on all this was simple. There’s nothing wrong with a psychological focus on the back garden. There’s nothing wrong with back gardens. There is no embarrassingly Freudian aspect to spending time in one’s back garden, taking care of one’s back garden. The back garden is a deep resource for the rest of the house. For the rest of the garden. For those people who inhabit it. The back garden is integral to the internal life of the family and it’s time to give it love and make it beautiful.

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