The snails in my garden are very, very fond of the white rose that I love. Every morning after I’ve done a bit of tai chi, I examine the damage done during the night and pick off the flowers that are past saving. I do sigh a bit and wish they’d leave the rose alone, but it’s irresistible to them and obviously delicious. So I put the nibbled, mangled petals on the ground, and let them get on with it.
It seems only natural then to stop and watch for a few moments, and watching very small creatures slows everything down. You can stop the whole world for a short time. I watched the snail eat a good portion of petal while its tiny insect companion climbed up the precipitous edge of the rose, waving thin, delicate feelers.
And then…the world started again.
I went indoors and made breakfast.
Every summer my neighbour’s mile-a-minute creeper scales fifteen feet of wall, gallops across the top and heads for this lamp-post where it continues enthusiastically onwards and upwards. I’ve noticed that plants generally seem to like going up, rather than sideways, even when there’s little competition and plenty of light. I watch it with fascination and wonder how much higher it would grow if it had the chance; if I planted a bit at the foot of a radio mast or an electricity pylon, would it go on and on skywards, like Jack’s beanstalk? There must be records for such things. Apparently a giant wisteria in Sierra Madre, California has already engulfed one house and is encroaching rapidly on another, so this russian vine is no more than a garden weed in comparison.
You can see why they say it’s no plant for a patio, but I love what it does to the lamp-post.
Last November I remembered to plant daffodil bulbs, and almost a month ago now, up they came, and flowered. I’m a hopeless gardener; I amost never plan, and when I do I often get it wrong and plant things in totally the wrong places, but I always get excited when I see green shoots appearing from beneath bare earth and it always seems miraculous.
The daffodils stand amongst a sea of wild celandines which arrive unbidden and cover every inch of open soil, but I can’t bear to tear them out; I welcome them every bit as much as the plants I put in myself and I’m grateful that they feel at home.
The flowers open and close again during the course of the day as warmth and sunlight reaches them in the morning and then fades away in the evening. Opening, closing; one of the natural cycles that is easy to see. I watch them from the kitchen window as I stand washing dishes, and gaze down on them from the bedroom window first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Qigong is all about opening and closing, too; the movements are circular, everything flows. I have taken to practising Tai Chi in the garden.
Mostly I practise just standing, which is not as easy as it sounds but which my body seems to find strangely familiar, as if this is something it already knows how to do and has always known. In fact I’m beginning to suspect that my body knows an awful lot about healing, and even untutored could accomplish miracles if only I would listen to it and let it teach me. It’s so easy to forget but it just needs time, and patience, and the simple matter of paying attention.
Or so it seems. We have all got rather tired of hearing that this season or that has broken all records for rainfall, or drought, or cold temperatures or whatever – but as we English are renowned for talking about the weather we would be going on about it even if records weren’t being broken. Nevertheless, the amount of rain we have had in the last week alone would be cause for conversation even if we were not given to remarking on it all the time. As I look out of the window low cloud covers the hills, mists of rain sweep up the valley, rivulets of water run in the street and the plants in our small garden are bent and bowed by the weight of the raindrops.
From time to time I make a quick dash outside to rescue drooping foxgloves with bits of wire and garden canes. I am no gardener – our little back yard is planted without much planning and I tend to it on a kind of emergency response basis whenever a plant that’s doing its best is being assailed by the weather or is under attack in some way – as now, by heavy rain and by an army of slugs and snails.
We have always had snails in the garden and I refuse to tackle them with pellets and poison; searching the internet for a way to deal with them gave me lots of ideas but none sound particularly humane. I did think of collecting a bagful of them and taking them up to the duck-pond where I think they would be welcomed as a tasty snack – but I have to confess to being one of those dreadful people who throw snails over the fence into the neighbour’s garden, my defence being that his plot is completely untended and wild, with nothing that he values in the way of flowers. My worry is that the snails won’t value it either and head straight back to the juicier stuff that we’re providing.
When it does stop raining for a few minutes, insects of all kinds fling themselves into action and head for the flowers.
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre starts with the famous opening sentence, ‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day’. On days like this I don’t try to leave the house, or at least only to spend a few moments in the garden which, small as it is, is a little world of its own and full of delights.