In stark contrast to the troubled relationship with time that we experience through our own aging, time in the garden brings magic and richness. It changes with every hour and every day – the light from dawn to dusk, the direction of flowers faces, the activity of insects, the emergence of seedlings. With every month and season life cycles ebb and flow, colours shift, foliage sprouts or withers. Frosts settle or sun bakes. With every year plants bloom or fade, bursting with juvenile growth or gnarling with age. With the wash of time the garden mellows, edges spill and a gentle maturity sets in.
Nowhere are the seasons more pronounced than in the garden and in nature, a reminder that everything has a time to grow, and a time to rest. It is often said that we should wear our own wrinkles with pride, that they tell the life and story of the soul that inhabits the shell. Given time, a garden is a beautiful narrator of the stories of its inhabitants too – the growth of a family, plants shared and collected on travels, and occasions celebrated. It’s a lesson in aging purposefully.
The challenge in my young garden is to remain patient while it develops old bones, particularly as the drought through these early years has suffocated growth and in essence set back time. Other challenges too have slowed progress, like the 200 sheep I discovered in my garden a few years ago, plants in their hundreds trampled and pulled from the earth, roots naked and dry. Yes, I yelled, made empty threats to shoot the lot, then shut the gate, gathered the plants and my senses, and replanted. Or the time that my young Edward “helped” by pruning a new tree to the ground. In these moments we learn that it’s the little things and the writing of our story that counts.
The most enriching garden making is that which occurs over time, evolving rather than being manufactured. Forget the quick fix reality TV style version of gardening, it has no depth and a limited life. Slow gardening is the best kind. It engages all senses, values the process as much as the outcome and the failures with the successes. It finds nourishment in both the times of busy activity and the quiet moments of stillness. Choose to grow your own, to sow seeds, to find beauty equally in flourish and decline, to be both busy and still. And pay attention to the offerings of nature through the hours, days, seasons, both big and small. They are time’s great gifts!
In the garden, time can be your greatest ally. Here are are some practical ways to engage time and patience as a friend in the garden.
- Buy plants young and little – they often establish faster than their more mature friends, settle in best and soon catch up. Plus, they’re cheaper!
- Better still, grow your own from seed or cuttings. It takes longer than buying of the shelf, but it’s much more satisfying.
- Build a garden with shared plants. It takes a little longer, though it tells your story and both your garden, and the way you use it, will be better for it.
- When starting new beds, layer the marked out area with newspaper and thick lucerne hay (if you can find it and it’s not taking from hungry livestock somewhere!), then wait patiently for a few months for it to work its magic. I don’t bother cultivating first, and it turns the soil to buttery goodness, with the worms munching on the lucerne and taking it back down into the soil. Lucerne is rich in nitrogen and feeds the soil as it breaks down.
- Live in your home for a while before planning the garden. You’ll learn all kinds of important things, like which way the wind blows, the views you love, which neighbours are noisiest and need screening out (like the ones with squealing dirt bikes, ugghh), and the loveliest aspects to enjoy your morning coffee. Don’t rush, it’s worth the wait.
- If you see aphids on your roses, don’t run for the chemical spray. Be a little patient and give the ladybirds time to discover the delicious meal that awaits them.
- Leave seed heads and spent flowers of non-weedy plants in place through winter. In frosty areas they look magical dusted with ice, protect newly developing foliage beneath, and give the garden interest while it sleeps.
- Make compost and weed tea and let them mature like a good cheese. Delicious.
- Plants wind breaks and banks of protective planting. Wait for them to grow and create microclimates in the garden that give fabulous planting opportunities given time.
- Don’t rush for the cobweb broom or even worse, the surface spray. Wait for the birds to find your stash of delectable spiders, they’ll love them and soon keep the cobwebs manageable.
- While the garden sleeps through the dead of winter, take the opportunity to rest too, before springing out of bed and planning for the growing season ahead.
- Don’t waste time on unnecessary chores when you could be literally smelling the roses. When we relax and allow the garden to be a little on wild side, magic happens!