June and July were hazy, blurry months. Days melted into weeks and weeks were over in a heartbeat. Here we are at the end of July and the scales of time are tipped towards the second half of the year. It’s been a strange few weeks of Olympics, vaccinations, Delta concerns, floods, fires, heatwaves, and riots. My head’s been too full of many little things and I hardly identified any new plants in July. So, this is a combined June and July wildflower post and it’s not so much about wildflowers in the “wild” sense of the word, but about gardening and the wilder elements in my garden.
Gardens can symbolise many things. Even though gardens are defined in many ways, traditional ideas often dominate our imaginations. They are seen as man-made Edens, sanctuaries, symbols of our connection to nature and our drive to dominate and control nature. They can also be an expression of wealth, power, and politics. It’s a fascinating subject and I won’t go into the history or politics of gardening just now, but I’ve come to realise just what a privilege it is to have access to a garden, especially a private garden. To have a dedicated space and the time to tend and grow a garden, and the resources to buy plants and gardening gear, is a joy linked directly to our financial and social situation. I’m grateful for each day I get to spend in my garden. I’ve been fortunate to have a garden, in some form, in three of the four spaces I’ve rented in the last ten years. Because I’m renting, I work on a budget by propagating plants from cuttings and buying cost-effective plants that will bring me joy in the short time I’m there. I also always try to salvage and reuse what I find in the normally neglected garden. I know the gardens I’ve left behind have probably wilted or reverted to wilderness as many tenants aren’t too fussed about gardening in a rented space, but I believe in leaving a garden when you go. On that note, I had an amazing conversation with another gardening enthusiast, Lefras, about gardening on a budget in a shared space. It’s worth a read if you need some gardening inspiration.
Gardens are teachers. I’m almost always barefoot in my garden and I love to feel grass beneath my feet. The joy and satisfaction I experience when I spend time in my garden come from a deeply rooted relationship. As I tend my garden, it tends me and my need to nurture, create, and build a relationship with nature, or the non-human world. I tend sick plants, plant seedlings, water pots, add compost. I decide where to create borders, which plants to thin, how to prune shrubs and trees, how often to deadhead flowers. But the garden has a life and agency of its own. Plants self-seed, throw out tendrils, climb walls, grow, wilt, succumb to parasites, reach for the light, multiply or die. It’s part of our give-and-take relationship. Visitors to the garden also come and go as they please. Blackbirds eat the firethorn’s berries in early spring. Honey bees enjoy the white clovers and creeping buttercups taking over the lawn. Magpies harass my cats during nesting season. My cats enjoy catching, and sometimes eating, the bees. Crickets eat my roses. Ants milk aphids on the willowherbs… In all of this ‘wildness’, I’m only a spectator while still being allowed an intimate connection to it all.
Now that I’m a mother, I have someone to enjoy my garden with me and it opens my eyes to new wonders. The garden teaches and nourishes my daughter as much as it does me. I planted a herb garden for her where she can dig in the soil and pick and eat the herbs. She can plant new plants, give them water, and do whatever she likes. Sometimes it’s hard not to intervene, but if she wants to pick ALL the chive flowers in one go, it’s her experiment. She loves ‘working’ in the garden with me while searching for spiders, earthworms, snails and other creepy crawlies. I’m amazed by her awareness and the amount of detail she notices. I hope to teach her to respect other creatures as she learns that home means something different to the bee than it does to the earthworm, but home is home. She learns that some plants are edible (yum) while others are poisonous. She also enjoys the sensory delights of the garden and encourages me to enjoy it with her. We smell the lavender, roses, and sage leaves. We feel the tingle of fresh thyme, the zing of chive flowers, and the earthiness of soil on our tongues. We both know a bite from an ant hurts! She, like me, spends most of her time barefoot. The grass feels good. Stones are uncomfortable to walk on. She listens to the birds and the wind and tries to imitate them. We were both delighted when we discovered the first ripe strawberry in our strawberry patch. Most of the strawberries were still small pale green buds and we were both surprised and delighted when we lifted the leaves and saw a large red strawberry. I showed her how it was connected to the plant and her face was filled with wonder and surprise – so that’s where strawberries come from! The following weeks, we had to check daily for more ripe strawberries. I hope this experience plants the seeds of understanding: food comes from somewhere, from nature. It establishes a connection often lost when we buy perfectly packaged food in supermarkets.
I’m also learning new things as I look up plant names and how to manage an organic garden. I do my best to encourage a bee-friendly garden. I had no idea there are 99 bee species in Ireland, according to pollinators.ie? Of the 21 bumblebee species, 4 are endangered and 2 are vulnerable. I’ve seen many initiatives to boost the bee population in our area. This includes leaving large strips of lawns ‘wild’ in parks. I’m delighted to see this is done in our neighbourhood’s housing estates too. Our lawn grew wild for over three weeks in June, not specifically for bees but because life got busy. It was covered with buttercups, daisies and white clover. The bees loved it, though! At one point, I saw ten bumblebees enjoying the clover patch. We decided it was time to mow the lawn after I stepped on a bee and got stung (oops), especially since we like to walk barefoot. We were fond of our little meadow and it was sad to see fewer bee visitors. But each few weeks new flowers bloom and the number of bees in our garden increases. The pink anemones are a big hit at the moment! And as anyone with a weedy lawn knows, it only takes a day or two before the clovers, buttercups and daisies renew their takeover attempt once more.
Even though a garden is loved as a whole, we often establish special relationships with specific plants. I was particularly fond of the willow tree growing in my childhood garden. I loved it for its beautiful shape, its shade and the endless entertainment it gave us. The long drooping branches were Tarzan-style swings or could be woven into princess crowns. There’s a firethorn in my current garden I’m fond of. The evergreen leaves, flaming red berries, and creamy flowers are so striking. I wonder who planted it. Perhaps the original owner of the property had the foresight to cover one of the grey concrete walls. It must have been some years ago. The silver-grey trunk is divided into three main branches at its base, and I cannot quite close my hand around the thickest one. Our firethorn is a friend to many creatures. In early spring, when it’s still too cold for the suburban gardens and wildish woodlands to feed hungry birds, the berries invite blackbirds to our garden. Incidentally, the berries are non-toxic to humans, though inedible (apparently they’ll give you a stomach ache if you eat a lot of them). They are a source of endless amusement and creative play to my toddler. The firethorn is ablaze with flowers in summer, attracting countless bees. The shrub provides shelter to my cat, Leia, when it rains. She has a favourite spot under a drooping branch where she’ll sit for hours, watching the blue tits and chaffinches in the neighbours’ silver birches. Numerous spiders call the firethorn’s dense shiny leaves and crisscrossing branches home, their webs frosting the tree as soon as the weather is warm enough for their seasonal activities. The decomposing leaves, berries, flowers and twigs, in turn, feed and enrich the flowerbed I created underneath its gently arching limbs. Despite the firethorn’s obvious attraction, I keep a safe distance unless I have to prune it – with its spiders, bees, and aptly named thorns, this modest, unfussy shrub demands some respect.
A garden is a teacher. Of relationship. Patience. Perseverance. Respect. Life and death. The inevitability of time. This is why I’ll keep gardening until I’m no longer physically or mentally able to. Because there is always so much left to learn.
Purple Crane’s-bill, Common Poppy, Opium Poppy, Foxglove, Small-flowered Crane’s-bill, Spear Thistle, Purple Toadflax, Scarlet Pimpernel, Rosebay Willowherb, Fuchsia, Tormentil, Rose Excelsa, Common Mallow, Blackberry, Dog rose, Common Lime, Firethorn, Polypody, Hogweed, Great Horsetail, Selfheal, Greater Plantain, Seaside Daisy, Yellow Water-lily, White Water-lily, Lesser Trefoil, Yellow Loosestrife, Hedge Bindweed, Red Valerian, Trailing Bellflower, Broadleaved Willowherb
Thank you for visiting the Wild Library blog today. I hope you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. If you want to know more about my wildflower-adventure, click here.
Have a happy day,