I vividly remember, this time last year, walking over the little stone bridge across the stream in our new garden, upon our return from the Falklands. I remember just standing there, looking, and then my eyes welling up and a couple of tears rolling down my face. It seemed I had got over having to leave the penguins behind; these were tears of overwhelming, happy wonderment.
We’d moved into the house the previous June. It was love at first sight for the garden and me (I do hope the garden felt the same way), yet it wasn’t a completely obvious choice to many. Gardening and non-gardening friends alike, almost all walked round our new space with us, chatting about anything but what was in front of them and concluding with words such as ‘potential’ and ‘lovely’, used in the future, rather than present, tense. Australian friends clearly did feel something for the vivid, emerald greenness and the history of the place, but British ones, I think, saw nettles and more nettles and quietly wondered why I hadn’t yet put any real plants in.
It was true, from June to December 2017, there was little to see but grass, trees and nettles. Nettles had pretty much taken over every square inch that wasn’t mown, leaving a somewhat monochrome monoculture of a ‘garden’. I loved it anyway; I genuinely wondered if I could love it any more than I already did. In fact, I was quite worried to start gardening here. Would I make it worse? Would it lose its magic?
Fortunately, as all good horticulturists know, the number one rule of gardening is not to do anything in a new (to you) garden for at least one year. Phew. The pressure was off. Paul and I also travelled extensively in those first six months in the house, so I just enjoyed the odd snatched moment walking around the garden, looking to see what was new each time. The changes mostly revolved around the increasing height of the nettles, aside from a short, but very pretty, display of autumn colours. It was fair to say that high summer didn’t bring a huge number of flowers to bear.
And so that January morning, walking over the bridge in to our woodland, was something of a revelation. I’d accepted by then, that nothing less robust than trees had survived the lack of nettle-pulling over the past few years, yet magically, whilst we had been away over the New Year, the frosts had arrived and flattened every single nettle across each of our four acres. And there, where the nettles had previously stood, were thousands upon thousands of little white jewels.
It felt nothing less than a miracle. I’d not even been able to step foot in the woodland since moving in; the nettles were as high as me and completely covering the bridge and as far as I could see beyond. And yet lying underneath them, in wait, were all these beautiful bulbs, patiently waiting for their moment when the leaves were down and the nettles flattened, to poke their noses up through the earth and feel the sun on their faces.
I stood there, unable to quite believe that this woodland was mine, that all these snowdrops, were mine. This was my garden; a part of my garden I was seeing for the very first time.
Those next six months happily continued in the same, excited vein. The winter aconites, the crocuses, the daffodils; the scented honeysuckle, witch hazel and Philadelphus; the ferns unfurling and the primroses popping out from underneath fallen leaves; surprises everywhere I looked, week after week. I had a deep sense of dread of June coming around. From June, there would be no more surprises. There would be no more wonderment. There would be no more tears of elation. I counted down the weeks until it all became predictable and known, willing them not to pass.
Yet, amazingly, they didn’t pass. Of course June arrived and went, but the surprises, the wonderment and the elation continue each and every day in the garden. Finally, I dare to believe that they will, in fact, never end. Every day in my happy place brings me even more joy than the last and across four acres of varying degrees of wildness, I know there will never be a day with no surprises. You just have to open your eyes.
Since June 2017, I’ve spent every second I can in the garden. Nettles and me have become the closest of friends. And that’s meant that writing my blog has been put on the back burner. I’ve just had too much enthusiasm for ‘doing’ to put down my spade and pick up my laptop.
But all gardening and no writing makes Janna a dull girl and all of a sudden I’ve got the blogging crave back. I’ve realised I want to capture all this elation my garden provides me with; I want to bottle it in case one day it’s no longer there. And what better way to bottle it than to look, photograph and write about all the things that bring me most joy? Surely, with this focus, even more joy will arise.
My plan is to write monthly. To capture the most special moments for me over each month and put them securely down on paper. All of a sudden I can’t wait to get writing about it, just as much as I can’t wait to get pulling nettles as the sun comes up each day. I’m hoping it will be a very special reminder for me and something to help me reflect on progress as I develop the garden over the coming years. If you’d like to come along for the ride, I’d love you to join me, too.
When my parents first saw our new garden, they couldn’t quite believe what we had done. How on earth were we ever going to manage to look after four acres? And not just look after, but renovate, and get back to some kind of garden, from the nettle plantation standing tall in front of them. I could tell they both thought it would all end in tears, as the realisation came over me that I had bitten off way more than I could chew.
They were right about the tears, of course, but, I think, underestimated my love for the space and the dedication I would have to nurturing it in every second I could spare. And I’m really very happy to have tears when they are tears that remind me how lucky I am and that reflect the joy our garden brings. I can’t wait to share each and every corner of it with you.