Potager Garden: April 2020

If summer brings to mind old English roses, then springtime must be the month of apple blossom. By the first week of April we glimpse the bright red buds starting to unfurl.

I have never been so glad of our small patch of green space, for in this national lock-down it allows us to spend an unlimited amount of hours outside, together as a family, under the ceiling-less sky. At this time of year, the garden changes constantly and brings a natural rhythm to each day.

Encouraged by the sun, soon every plant starts to awaken. One morning we are greeted by bursts of tiny flowers in every corner, and the once-still air is starting to fill with insects and the occasional orange tip butterfly. We eagerly await a sighting of our first bumble bee.

On Good Friday, my second son plants the chitted potatoes into the vegetable garden. Everyone is able to help. My two autistic sons love playing with water so the elder fills a watering can and tends to the raised beds each morning, whilst our littlest son likes to top up the stream with the hose.

On Easter Weekend, we hide tiny chocolate bunnies and eggs around the garden. It is so beautifully warm that we have to hurry to find them and keep the discovered ones clustered in the shade before they melt.

By mid-April, the apple blossoms have opened and our house martins return to their nests in the eaves of our roof. We plant sunflower, nasturtium and cabbage seeds in the raised beds amongst the red onions. The garlic is thriving and its scent rises to greet me every time I enter the vegetable plot through the little gate.

Then, one morning, whilst I sip my tea from the Ponder Chair (a comfy old high back chair, covered in blankets, with the best vantage point for pondering the garden) a large bumble bee flies in through the open door and rests beside me on the windowsill. A very welcome sight.

Within days others follow, until there are countless bees darting in and out of the apple tree branches. My second son, the keeper of the tree, is so excited: “This means we will have apples in the autumn!”

Late April and the bluebells arrive. I am happier than ever to see them this year, when we cannot spend as much time in the ancient woodland as we normally would due to the national quarantine. A small part of the old English spring is here with us.

As the weather warms, the stream becomes irresistible to the children. Our one year old daughter loves to change the sound of the water by piling up different combinations of pebbles. Sometimes little channels start to overflow into the borders and the plants look glad of it.

I am now able to walk barefoot along the paths each morning and we keep the doors open, so that we can step out into the garden with a cuppa in hand. The children run in and out. I actually like it when the occasional bee loses its way and buzzes through the kitchen to inspect whatever am baking, before catching the scent of flowers again and returning to the garden. I welcome the occasional burst of light rain.

I leave the window above the sink open, so that I can hear birdsong throughout day and watch the pigeons, robins, sparrows and blackbirds bathe in the stream as I work in the kitchen.

Now the apple blossom looks more fragile, and is occasionally starting to drift away on the breeze. As the delicate watercolour-like spring petals fade, we prepare to welcome the fresh greens of May.

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: 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.

Visit my Little Art Shop: www.tinypotager.shop

Commission Enquiries: tinypotager@hotmail.com

Potager Garden: Stream watching, borrowed hats and precious food

We continue adapting to this new, quiet time in our lives. I am noticing little changes. Food, for example, is suddenly becoming very important due to the shortages. We seem to talk about it a lot more than normal. Our autistic sons have very restrictive diets, therefore we are saving all of the plain items we know they will eat just for them. I am also trying to disguise other foods creatively to tempt them into eating more protein, as we cannot buy enough vegetarian substitutes in the shops at the moment. Courgette fritters worked well – gobbled up before they knew they were not potato rosti. Hummus disguised as butter was viewed with suspicion and then handed back to me with knowing looks.

My ten year old son (on the left) is enjoying the peaceful garden and has taken a great interest in the stream lately. He can spend over an hour watching the water flow under the wooden bridge, rearranging the pebbles and floating tiny leaf boats. His autism often causes me to forget that there is only eighteen months in age between him and my next eldest son and it is when they spend companionable time together like this that their similar heights make it very apparent.

Our little daughter is completely unaware of any difference in the pace of life. This is her first spring outside of babyhood, to her this is what the season is – the tranquility of birdsong as the plants she has grown to know so well burst into new life. She is amazed at leaves emerging from shrubs she knew only as twigs, pointing them out to me, hopping up and down. Look, look! Who knew they were magic?

She has taken to wearing a flatcap that belongs to her youngest brother. He in turn picked it from an outdoor shop because it matched his dad’s walking cap. Our youngest son likes to look like other family members, feeling secure in wearing what is familiar. He prefers hand-me-downs to new clothes.

One of my long term aims with the garden is to create a miniature woodland, especially sized for children. The evergreens will be cropped and kept small, to look like old gnarled oaks. My daughter is already enjoying this little area that has “trees” her size. She is starting to play hide and seek with us, and is just about able to stay hidden now without giggling and giving herself away.

There is a slight camber in the path here, which was designed to make the track exciting for the boys’ scooters as they sail around the “roundabout” section. My daughter goes very carefully – although I can barely detect the lean as I walk around the route, it must feel much more so to her, being so small.

I have been working on raised bed number three. I’m trying my luck with beetroots for the first time, and cabbages grown from seed. I usually use plugs for the brassicas, but deliveries are in short supply. The garlic and the strawberries I feel at home with, these always seem to thrive. I’ve also planted some sunflower seeds and nasturtiums, as I love to have an orange hue to the garden as autumn approaches.

I have removed the older, damaged leaves from the strawberry plants, detached any runners and planted them in their own space.

Our neighbour’s apple trees have come into blossom, which gives a lovely screen of privacy again. Hopefully it will not be too long before the bamboo provides this all year round.

In the late evening, when the children are asleep, I spend a contented hour writing up the garden plans and making note of when everything was planted.

Next, before bed, I will go through all of the salad and fresh food, see what is coming close to being overripe and decide what to make with it for the seven of us tomorrow. I always knew that healthy meals were important – but now they feel precious.

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

Almanac: Sunshine, doorstep parcels and fresh air

In the national lock down, we are all permitted to leave the house for exercise and fresh air once a day, as long as we keep our distance from those that are not from our household. Today is the perfect spring day; warm like summer, with a gentle breeze.

I’m walking with my ten year old autistic son. I am usually protective of him because of traffic, though today I hold his reign tightly in my hand in case he gets the sudden urge to reach out to someone he knows.

“Park?” He asks. I say no, no park today, the park is shut, we are going to the fields. “Park.” He repeats with finality, as if the matter is now settled.

At the hedgerow he pauses and breathes in deeply. It is quiet, except for the buzzing of bees and the starlings in the trees.

From the fields we can see over to the neighbouring village to the west and the city to the south. As we get to the extent of our walk today my son pulls towards the distant woodland and I gently steer him away.

I return my son safely home to the rest of our family and collect my little daughter. It is too complicated, with the risk and social restrictions, for us all to go into the village at once, so we are taking our children out in shifts.

Usually, my daughter picks up every fallen flower and runs her fingers along fences or railings, so today she is safely on my back in her carrier.

We see an elderly gentleman we know from our volunteer work tending his front garden. As we approach along the footpath he quickly rises and stands ten foot back, smiling and waving to my daughter. We exchange a few cheery words. The nearby main road is empty and we cross without our usual wait.

We are on our way to photograph our library’s Community Garden. It is particularly enjoyed by those who do not have gardens of their own and we want to make sure they can still enjoy watching it bloom online.

My 19 month old daughter is enjoying herself immensely, waving at everyone and pointing out dogs. “A dog. An-other dog. Also dog. More dog.”

It reminds me that when my 10 year old son was younger, he used to call dogs random names because he was copying, although slightly misunderstanding, how humans greeted each other. “Hello Phillip!” he would say to a passing german shepherd. It really confused the owners.

We find the Community Garden full of life. We encourage anyone from the village to add plants to the little plot and it is a wonderful riot of colour.

We head back through the church yard and as we pass under the trees dozens of startled birds take flight. They have already gotten used to having the place to themselves.

It is very odd to see straight across to the local pub. I cannot usually get a clear view for the constant traffic.

There is a large queue of elderly shoppers outside the butcher’s, so we take the longer route back through quiet residential streets, to avoid stepping out onto the road to keep a safe distance.

I notice that quite a few houses belonging to older villagers have sacks of potatoes, milk bottles or loaves of bread outside on the doorstep. Neighbours have been leaving food parcels for those in need. Such kindness is heartening.

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: 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