Sitting out on the decking with a mug of coffee, I found myself thinking about the true joys of gardening.
Beyond the obvious ones of harvesting home-grown produce (and eating it!). Beyond the pleasure in seeing flowers bloom, plants grow.
Those truly are major joys of gardening, but they aren’t the only ones…
Look up for a moment
“Sickle-like wings flitter and cut dark patterns against the sky.” It’s the only line I remember from a song we learned at primary school for a concert. We also learned about the glottal stop and the difference it can make: another song was about a white owl. Or a white towel, if you didn’t put that ‘punctuation’ in!
The first song was, of course, about swifts. There were two performing an aerial ballet high above me – a courtship, or a contest? Amazing birds that spend just three months a year in Britain. Or rather, over it, as other than nesting, they do everything on the wing.
Higher, much higher above them, an airliner cut a white slice across the blue sky, the plane itself a gleam of silver. Up there, cocooned in a pressurised flying tin can, people I have never and will never meet, all with their own lives, their own problems. All enduring the tedium of being in that tin can – tedium being at least preferable to the alternative of sheer terror! – as it scythed through the atmosphere to take them from A to B.
I could find out where by looking at http://www.flightradar24.com which is both quietly fascinating and somewhat scary – scary when you see just how many planes are clustered around Heathrow at any one time, seemingly on top of each other.
In the garden
Come back down to Earth, and to the earth. Apart from the dog, trotting around on some secret canine mission, all seems quiet. But it is anything but. It is teeming with life. There are the visible examples: a blue tit checking out the bird feeder; a butterfly flitting around in a seemingly aimless way that probably has some butterfly method to it; a bee ‘nose’ deep in a kowhai flower (sophora Sun King) (main picture – sans bees!).
But there are also the unseen. Digging out a bed once, I disturbed a slow worm. I was shocked at the thought I could easily have accidentally killed it with the spade – its scientific name is ‘Anguis fragilis,’ and this amazing, legless lizard at that moment certainly struck me as fragile.
I thought briefly of popping it into a bucket to allow me to go and fetch a camera. But I had disturbed it enough, so I just moved it to safety and it slid away to find a new sanctuary.
‘During courtship, the male takes hold of the female by biting her head or neck, and they intertwine their bodies.’ (source: here).
Slow-worms feed on slow-moving prey, particularly small slugs, and are a protected species. But may suffer from people a) not knowing that, and b) mistaking them for snakes. Anything that eats slugs should be welcomed!
A bug’s life
Early yesterday morning, as I went to open the greenhouse windows for the day, a flash of electric blue flew past. It wasn’t alone. I spotted, around the back garden, half a dozen small dragonflies.
When I am working in the front garden (along with more butterflies and bees), it is the ladybirds I really notice. There are something like 48 species in the UK. And a foreign invader which provided great headlines for sub-editors a couple of years ago, when swarms of Harlequin ladybirds invaded homes. This ‘alien’ species, first seen here in 2004, carries a type of fungus which is harmful to the creatures – and transferred during mating. Cue headlines about ‘ladybirds with STIs’. Swarms in your house might be unwelcome, but no one complains when they are eating greenfly and other aphids.
They also provide food for swifts, swallows, and some spiders and beetles.
Which are, of course, among the other myriad creatures living in our gardens. Along with, in my front garden, some species or other of green grasshopper. Grasshoppers eat plants, but don’t seem to do any damage in my garden. They are hardly in the same league, volume-wise, as the cicadas of other countries. But their chirping is still pretty loud for something so tiny, and one of the sounds of summer.
Close to nature
And all this is one of the true joys of gardening. Being close to, and aware of, the bug on the leaf, the bird on the fence, the feel of the soil, the smell of it. Not being a passive spectator, not sitting in the garden focussed on reading a book or barbecuing a steak or holding a conversation. But getting your hands dirty (even wearing gloves), soil on your face, relocating a worm away from the threat of a sharp trowel.
And switching off from the worries and stress of life, from the roar and fumes of traffic, from the bustle of crowds, and from the artificial glow and sterile feel of metal and plastic – from the modern technology we are all so addicted to now in the rest of our lives.