You probably want me to talk about Greece.
But Greece is forgone. A pro-EU referendum result and an engineered Graccident are in the offing. Greece is forgone because the pieces are in play. This is happening. Inertia trumps manipulation. Cycles gonna cycle.
Instead I want to talk about gardens.
The thing about west London shitholes that I didn’t know until I rented one is that tenants are supposed to take care of the garden. In the Antipodes, you are told in no uncertain terms that if you fuck with the garden you are out the door. But then, the English approach renting in a way that seems alien to me. They paint various rooms and generally do the place up. They don’t go as far as Germans –BYO kitchen– but I still just never could bring myself to care enough about a garden I didn’t own. I don’t, for instance, prune the lobby flowers when I am staying in a hotel. I’m paying your mortgage, jackass. Water your own camellias.
I also want to talk about gardens because my father, in his own words, “had his heart taken out and put on a table” on Thursday. (My birthday, no less.) He had a triple bypass which, whilst I’m sure is not anybody’s first choice for a Thursday morning activity, is still a relatively routine procedure. So I called him in his recovery room for the first time today. He’s bored out of his mind so we spoke about Greece. I joked that, despite his demonstrably mediocre chess skills, he seems to have beaten the Reaper for now. My bedside manner is amazing.
Because nothing fun happens in my partner’s life without a spreadsheet we have decided that, this year, the garden maintenance is going to take the form of an experiment that will presumably come in handy if/when we move to some rapey valley in North Wales or whatever our post-London hypothesis du jour happens to be. That means answering fun and exciting questions like
- Can you even grow blueberries in Zone 2 West London?
- When people say ‘don’t plant tomatoes too close to each other’ how close is too close? Is touching too close? Too late.
- What foodstuffs can we throw in the yard and have grow? (Tomatoes again, it seems. Also possibly cucumber unless that’s just a weed from next door.)
The lawn has been a three month disaster. My masochistic partner has been throwing seed and dirt up and down the yard since April. It’s all been very Biblical. But I get quite upset when he’s upset and want to fix things with money so I begged him to let me buy some Polish boys for a weekend to come and just roll out a new lawn. He consistently refused.
Eventually his lawn sprouted in the way of an affordable set of hairplugs and he seemed happy. However, the first weekend I actually got to roll a picnic blanket out on it and drink/work outside -this last weekend gone- coincided with the neighbours opting for ‘a more Gordon approach’ and buying in some Polish boys. One of them was unbelievably attractive. I’m talking ten out of ten. Honestly, angels would weep. I assume he does his job by just walking around in people’s gardens and flowers spring up from his footsteps a la Galadriel. (Have I mentioned I’m not super confident in how the whole science of gardening actually works?) Anyway, I point out to my partner what visual splendor he has cruelly denied us but he is still very proud of his green hairplugs so I leave it alone.
Southern England is tipping into a heatwave so we extended the use of the garden in Saturday to vegetarian barbecuing with our vegetarian flatmate:
Super affordable hipster nonsense pic.twitter.com/cYQct7AOyl
— Gordon White (@gordon_white) June 27, 2015
In New Zealand they are very, very fond of per capita comparisons, leading to the inevitable joke that New Zealand has more per capita comparisons per capita than anywhere else on earth. The English stick to strictly meteorological comparisons and only when they are favourable. Thus I know it will be hotter than Barbados in London on Wednesday. I assume Visit England has bought some billboard space in Barbados to promote this fact.
But it is, in the end, a wonderful evening. We sit outside drinking Campari and Sancerre and the last of the jasmine begins to release its scent and we quietly marvel at the things we have not yet killed. The appreciation of gardens grows with the awareness of how one tends a garden.
This gets me thinking about the common Abrahamic religious motif of the Afterlife as a garden. The garden/Afterlife motif occurs to me because my mother the psychonaut and I were joking about how funny it would be if my aspie psychiatrist father woke from surgery with a full blown NDE. (I get my bedside manner from her, obviously.) A garden is the most common setting for the “it’s not your time, you have to go back” moments in NDEs. Whether this is a cultural expectation or not remains to be investigated. I have had an uneasy, disdainful relationship of the notion of spending eternity in a garden. It’s better than not existing, I suppose, but by how much? So then I think about one of my top ten scenes from Angels in America. Your life is simply incomplete if you have not seen it.
Nurse Belize’s description of heaven is, well, heavenly. Now, so many of you are pagan so this will probably not come across as news, but it is news to me: there is a particular relationship between the gardener and his/her garden that you only understand by doing. You make a space for organisms, tend them, allow them to interreact, but you do not control them. There is a sense of benign distance where you let life live. It is magical.
Granted, it is more magical if you lean into that curve. I insisted we plant rosemary and St John’s Wort, both of which have been hugely successful and both of which we fed with red wine and a prayer from Jose’s the Book of St Cyprian on this St John’s Eve just gone… so we are ghost free for another year. But I think back to the Abrahamic metaphor of the garden as Afterlife and it occurs to me that these Near Eastern cultures would have had or aspired to have gardens. There would have been a lived understanding of the potency of that metaphor and what it says about a Creator’s relationship to its Afterlife creation… especially in the evenings when it is soft and quiet and you can sense the interrelationship and sovereignty of all things within it. (I say evenings because, after all, it’s hot in the Near East. London hot.)
We return to Angels in America and pick up the West Coast/Western Lands/San Francisco motif for a sense of this.
There is an IAO/garden working I have been using and optimising since the beginning of the year, which I will share with you when it is ready for its close-up. I can do wild; I shark dive and remove snakes from my parents’ yard (and spiders from my chicken-shit flatmates’ rooms) and desert hike and tolerate the cold; and I can do urban; Soho members clubs and exhibition openings and free trips to various European palaces; but gardens are a separate category whose layers are only experienced by experiencing them. This I like.
For the more vigorously magical -those with a proper poisoner’s garden- there is an additional layer to that motif as well. As well as the intentional hand, the gentle hand is there also. Yes, you have the potency and potentiality of your plant allies, but the relationship is not only one of companionship. There is still the benign hand of the loving gardener at night that lets things exist. Gardening improves with additional hands and brings a garden closer to its perfect, hands-off state. The light comes with the dark in the night garden.
It was a supreme symbol of her dangerous, magical skill, but there is this other facet to Hekate and her garden outside Eleusis.