Potager Garden: Simple water meditations in the garden

I miss spending time in the forest during this coronavirus lockdown. Finding ways of replicating the sense of peace and wellbeing that the woodlands give me, really helps ease the longing to be back there.

Just after a light April shower is the perfect time for mindfulness in the garden. There is such calmness in water. I wait for the rain to stop falling and for that moment when the clouds part and the droplets amongst the leaves and branches suddenly illuminate with sunshine.

I watch through my camera lens as a miniature globe slowly edges to the very end of a petal. It takes every ounce of concentration. I feel my breathing slow – I am so close that a brisk exhale would cause all of these droplets to cascade.

The slightest breeze, now rustling through the garden, makes the raindrops precarious, reminding me that all things are precious and transient.

Inside each bubble of water are refracted images of the surrounding stems. Another gentle breeze and they all run down to the soil to nourish the plant.

When the unfurling leaves of the rhubarb are filled with rainfall, I am reminded of our hikes in wild Scotland, and the river valleys that flow through the purple, heather-topped mountains.

I encourage my children to find their own stillness in the garden.

For my toddler, this might be a flower on a stem, where I know she will be fascinated by the petals. For my young autistic sons, I might give them a ribbon to run with. Meditation does not always need to be motionless.

I ask my eldest sons to find a spot next to the stream and sit comfortably, and then we chime a brass singing bowl. I ask them to pinpoint the moment when the echoing ring of the bowl fades into the sound of the running water. It takes all of their concentration.

I tell them that if a thought pops into their head, then this is okay. Acknowledge it, and then imagine that it drifts away along the stream like fallen leaves.

I notice a profound difference in their self-belief, confidence and concentration, when we turn back to our schoolbooks, if they start the day with calmed minds.

I hope that wherever you are, you are able to find a little window of peace in your day.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Potager Garden: The unearthly quiet, rabbit clouds and bare feet

We have spent the last week preparing for the shut down that we knew would be coming. It started fully today. Our business is now on hold and the charity library where I am a trustee has shut its doors on government orders. Even though we already worked from home whilst educating our five children, there is an absence of emails and phone calls that will take some getting used to.

Our friends and family have so far stayed healthy and we are in constant contact over text and Skype. Our children send drawings and letters to their grandparents over email.

I am glad it is spring and very grateful we have a little garden.

We cannot explain to our two autistic sons or little daughter what is happening in the world but this has turned out to have a happy side effect. The fact that they live completely for the present moment is teaching me how to do so too.

Today our daughter spent time just watching the clouds go by. Every time she spots a cloud that she thinks looks like a rabbit, she squeals, runs over to me, grabs my hand and pulls me over to see.

Our second son’s apple tree, planted last autumn, has leaves forming. He knows that insects help pollinate flowers and I found him carefully moving spiders from the bark to other areas of the garden, so that their webs did not catch any of the bees by mistake.

The ground has dried out enough in the spring sunshine for us to go barefoot. This is our daughter’s first spring where she can walk and run about (she was just learning to crawl this time last year) and she likes to scrunch her toes in the grass.

Each morning I hide little fir cones around the garden for her to find. She darts all over searching for them, handing them to me as she runs by.

I notice the unearthly quiet of a busy world ground to a stop. Usually there is a constant distant hum of traffic from the city outskirts and a nearby lane. Now I can only hear birdsong, the sound of children playing in gardens nearby and the ripple of our garden stream.

The bright sunlight this morning showed up my younger children’s fingerprints on the windows, and as I was polishing the glass in a bedroom that overlooks the green, I could see other people doing the same. Soon, many neighbours had flung their windows open and we all waved at each other, shouted hellos and gave a thumbs up.

The seasons keep on moving, even though we have all paused. As we come out of winter, my family naturally begin to change the rhythm of our days. Our school lessons move out into the garden, or at the very least we have the doors next to the kitchen table thrown open, and the breeze coming in. The house feels airy and fresh, no need for scented candles or oil burners when the real smell of grass and blossom is drifting in.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

Visit my Little Art Shop: www.tinypotager.shop

Commission Enquiries: tinypotager@hotmail.com

Potager Garden: Seedlings, hidden veggies and finding a calm, centred place

I found an old camping table in the garage that looked like the perfect size for our youngest gardener. She was delighted and immediately set up a shop and started attempting to sell my pots onto her older siblings.

Our second son has been watching his seedlings grow on the windowsill. Every morning he eagerly opens the kitchen blinds up so that they get plenty of light. The micro greens are not too far away from being ready now.

The potatoes are chitting happily in the early spring sunshine. From far away tiny bumps are becoming visible, but close-up there are leaves and nodules to marvel at. We are learning about botanical drawings as one of our homeschool projects, and next week I plan to give the children magnifying glasses and watercolour paints so that they can draw them.

Our children have very different approaches to gardening. Our fourth son has sensory autism and does not like to get compost on his hands. He is cautious with the tools and uses two together, to carefully lift the soil into the pot.

It is brilliant when I can give him a practical task that takes all of his attention because he can then hear me talking to him, without all of the thousands of thoughts that rush through his mind getting in the way. He is able to fetch me the red pot when I ask, and then, when I make another request of him, he takes it over to the table. Perfect. It shows me that he does understand the words I say, and it is about patience and helping him to find a calm centred place.

Our daughter has long given up on using my improvised potting table. The compost is far too inviting and the tiny indoor gardening trowel I have given her does take an awful lot of time. She simply climbs in and uses her hands.

I have lately been working on improving the palette of our two youngest sons, who, if given the choice, would eat a very limited selection of foods and both instinctively shun the taste of vegetables. After many years of negotiation I have convinced them that cheese on toast is “pizza” … and I have since managed to sneak chopped onions and pureed veg into my homemade tomato sauce. Today I added butter-sauteed leeks into the cheese mix and was delighted when they cleaned their plates. Another vegetable conquered!

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Potager Garden: When the veg plot becomes an outdoor classroom

Today in the garden, whilst I have been working on the veg plot and sweeping the paths, my little daughter has had some lucky finds. She has gathered them in her wheelbarrow, and is now laying them out neatly.

We use them to practise her counting, one to ten. She pauses and concentrates after “123” because she always has the urge to shout “go!” and run off. Once she makes it past this hurdle and onto 4, we can get all the way to 10.

I have been taking pebbles out of the raised beds – recent heavy rains have drilled them up to the surface – and have made a small pile to add to the birdbath. My daughter inspects them, wrinkles her brow and waves a finger at me. My heap of lucky finds is very messy. She organises them for me, in a line to match hers.

We practise sharing. She gives me a few of her treasures, I give her a few of my stones. We make pictures together: a face, a hedgehog, a bridge.

My daughter enjoys seeing all of the new flowers in the garden and quickly spots if something has changed since yesterday. She believes the primulas have faces. She points out their noses to me.

I pot up the last of the bedding plants in need of a new home. My daughter copies me by adding an old piece of evergreen into a tiny pot next to a delicate crocus. It takes a bit of a knock, but will likely perk back up. For the garden to belong to the children as well as me, I embrace these little gestures.

Whilst I remove bark pieces from the stream, she pokes at the waterfall with a stick. We seem to have a lot of these about, brought back by all five of the children from our woodland walks.

It escalates pretty quickly to her clambering up onto the giant rock, laying across it, coat sleeves dipping into the water.

I stop my gardening for the day, pull up my sleeves and join in. We build damns, pools and harbours. We search for fallen leaves to float down the choppy rapids. A happy hour together passes.

When the sky clouds over, we notice how cold our hands are – the difference the sun makes to a chilly winter day!

Soon after, we are back inside to get warm. My husband puts the kettle on and the whole family pause for tea and biscuits. My older boys tell me about the maths they have studied; my younger boys have been practising their singing. I tuck a woollen blanket around my daughter and the kitchen fills with voices.

My eyes catch a glimpse of a stack of old newspapers set aside for recycling. I decide to keep a few back. Next week I will teach my youngest two children how to make paper boats for the stream.

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Commission Enquiries: tinypotager@hotmail.com