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My Garden 2 Ă— 30 reflections

Monika Gora

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My earliest memories are very much concerned with life

With how the landscape is sometimes damp and sometimes dry, sometimes hot and sometimes cold. In my childhood memories there are plants and insects, sounds and scents. Memories that only come to life when one experiences the same phenomenon over again; like an inbuilt compass for a specific home. outdoors.

Impressions from far away, for places I want to remember .

Memories that I want to savour and thus repeat again and again. My garden as a patchwork of home足 made souvenirs.

Perhaps it has something to do with age .

With settling down, searching for roots. The illusion of creating some足 thing for the future. A place which one can age along side. Trees to mature with. Despite the fact that many elderly people prefer to cut their trees down, to create open vistas and to grow vegetables instead. Will I, too, come to disapprove of trees?

One doesn’t need to have a garden of one’s own to experience nature .

Nor to have an experience of gardens. There are more profound experiences of nature to be had by seeking it out oneself. When I take a walk in an unfa­ miliar neighbourhood I experience more scents and see more varieties of plants. There is more for me to experi­ ence. My own garden represents privacy and calm, ­inertia bordering melancholy. Preoccupation with details, medi­ tation.

I always avoid descriptions of nature and landscape in novels ,

yet I love moving within a landscape; becoming part of it. Whether I walk, cycle, drive, take a train or a plane. Imbibing landscapes of every possible sort, letting them wash over me, taking part in the movement. Not having to look after anything. Forgetting my own garde足 ning ambitions entirely.

What makes a garden my garden is my commitment. A strong

desire to shape, to create, to interfere with. And the re足 sponse: the garden reacts to my own actions. My garden is like a pet animal that enfolds me, creating a mutual dependence. I work in my garden, I own the ground, I am in charge of it. But it makes decisions of its own with which I have to comply. There is an exchange, a sym足biosis. My kingdom in which it appears that I have full control.

Every time that I go away and then return to my garden I discover that it has changed . It has grown. This growth,

the force in everything that grows, makes me happy. The vitality surprises me, infects me. My garden is a labora足 tory, a place where I can register time in its short and in its long-term changes.

Soon it will be time to move on .

This strikes me from time to time, when I feel too bound, too fettered to this plot of land, too weighed down by everything that needs doing and all the growing that I am forced to keep up with. You are so fond of all your trees, my daughter tells me. You can’t leave them. But I shall leave them, one day, I just do not know when.

There were, of course, limits to my childhood ­l andscapes .

But I do not remember these limits. I do remember that I transgressed them. I ran on lawns where there was a sign forbidding one to walk. I stole fruit from gardens and sometimes flowers. I climbed over fences. In third grade I often played a game that involved drawing a circle in the dirt and dividing the circle into the number of play­ ers. Instead of casting a dice we threw knives. The idea was to throw the knife into a segment next to one’s own so that it embedded itself firmly in the ground. Then you could draw a line in the dirt and gain some territory. The old division was rubbed out in favour of the new one.

created, once upon a time, by dividing up agricultural land into plots each with its own house of a different design. Some of the plots were later divided in two and new houses were built on the new plots. A large part of my plot was sold off before I bought the property. I miss the land that was sold off even though I never actually owned it. The boundary, which was very clearly aparent initially, is hard足 ly visible nowadays. The wooden fence is now covered with greenery. The garden has been redesigned and is fully functional in spite of the earlier amputation. No one would guess that the plot was once very different. But I still sometimes look out from upstairs and imagine what the garden looked like before part of it was sold off.

My garden is in a residential neighbourhood

My garden follows a traditional pattern of attributes :

a hedge with a gate leading onto the road, a lawn, flow­ ers, fruit trees, bushes, a flagpole, the house. Everything is reasonably tidy. I observe the unwritten rules. That’s the easiest way. Things would be even easier if one were to follow the conventions more closely: enlarge the lawn, cut down the bigger trees and pave parts of the garden. One could have fewer plants, preferably ones that grow really slowly.

As a child I did not enjoy gardening .

I am not that keen on it now, to be perfectly honest. Initially I have to force myself to do it. But the more I work in the garden the more involved I become. I become fanatic about 足realizing the next idea and then the one after that; about creating my own world. I find myself slipping into a special frame of mind. I start to believe that the garden needs me in order to develop as well as possible. At some point where I start seeing it as my garden, looking after it ceases to seem like work. Instead it becomes a way of being, a re足 lationship.

I want my garden to seem part of the natural world .

I im­ ­itate nature. Riverbed, pine forest, beech woods, ­meadow, forest clearing. I refrain from imitating a living room, pre­ ferring to emulate nature. But I find myself back there in the living room. The garden as a living room, a sort of antechamber to the house. Are there any gardens wholly without buildings? Even the smallest allotment has its shed or a pergola or some sort of roofed space. The gar­ den is the land around the building, an appendix, the place where the house has taken root, has chosen to stand. The garden is a way of marking one’s territory, of extending and establishing boundaries, spaces, utilities; a stage set or a furnished space outdoors. Houses have a tendency to grow and to eat up more and more of the garden. We built an extension to the house and my gar­ den diminished. Then something unheard of happened: the neighbours demolished their large garden shed.

My garden is so easy to manage, like a piece of the countryside .

Yet it is entirely a construct, the work of human hands. Nature is what invades by default: dandelions, ground elder, tiny little plants that grow in the cracks be足 tween paving stones, tree seeds that have become fine little plants, right at the beginning of their century of life. I can admire them before removing them, shortening their lives to a matter of months; at most a year. I am like a grazing animal that keeps the landscape open. I pull up plants that have rooted themselves, not because I am mean but because doing so is part of my human nature. I graze my plot, occupying my space in order to fulfil my vision of nature.

There is a mouse that lives in my garden .

I have come upon it on several occasions over the years. The mouse must be at least six years old. I see it always in the same place, by a cluster of plants with large, evergreen leaves; a palace for a mouse. I only come upon one mouse and it is hard to see. A slight rustling in the leaves, and some­ thing that looks almost like a little sparrow busily peck­ ing at the ground. When it catches sight of me it hurries off into the vegetation. From the way it moves I realize that it is not a bird. Just occasionally it will try to hide under a leaf where I can still see it. It is quite tiny, a ­delight with its angular snout and its large black eyes that don’t seem to work too well in daylight. Someone wanted me to kill it. “Where there is one mouse there is a colony of mice.” But I have no intention of killing it; at least not unless it tries to move into the house.

There are birds here, of course, lots of them .

Among them are the very persistent male blackbird that sing in the hope of gaining another and then another mate be­ fore the summer ends. They are fantastic. Such energy and such a voice. Even if I can’t find a single one of the blackbird’s nests, I find traces of their enemies: cats, magpies, gulls or whatever that eat up their young and leave eggshells and traces of down on the lawn. I realize that I ought to help them in some way in return for being able to listen to their singing; as a token of appreciation. I let them take my wild strawberries but perhaps they ­really want a place of their own, a blackbird nesting box?

Some animals stay permanently in the garden while 足o thers move on .

And some become involuntary guests. A small raptor dropped its prey, a magpie as big as the bird itself. It picked the magpie up again but then got stuck with its prey in the wire fence. We stared at each other for a while. The bird had an intense and crystal-clear gaze in spite of its parlous situation. It was trapped between its prey and the fence. I moved away, letting it escape into the air. It left the dead magpie behind; something that the cats fought over in the evening.

When we moved here I started planting trees .

Different sorts of trees along the edges of the garden. Species that I like, some of them quite rare. There were trees that shed their leaves and there were evergreens. Some of them flower or produce fruit. I managed to plant quite a lot of trees on a piece of land two metres wide and ninety ­metres long. This was the edge of the plot next to the neighbours’ garden; not somewhere where one should really plant trees. A very tall sort of hedge; a forest illu­ sion. A composition in which different sorts of trees have adapted to their siting. They grow upwards and expand outwards.

Things don’t always work out the way I had thought .

My lovely pine tree, with its feathery needles, is no more. It took a long time for it to die. I just happened to poison it two summers running. Two really hot dry summers. Towards the end of the second summer it became in­ creas­ingly dejected. It produced masses of cones that live on through their offspring. The cones did not devel­ op and mature. There was not sufficient life in the tree. I was mystified until an expert arborist told me that it had almost certainly succumbed to the weed killer that I had used on the paving stones of the driveway. I was told to water the tree as much as possible. It was highly unlikely that the tree would survive but this was the only possible way of saving it. I watered it every day for several weeks. I embraced the tree and asked its forgiveness. But ­nothing helped and the pine tree died. I love trees and I partic­ ularly loved this pine tree but I killed it in my eagerness to eliminate the weeds.

There are hedges made of bushes and there are hedges made of trees that look like bushes .

Trees that are con­ stantly pruned so that they remain bushes. I have a beech hedge and I particularly enjoy the warm glow of the rustgold leaves which remain on the branches throughout the winter. It is only the young plants that retain their ­leaves in this way. They help to protect the spirant beech plants from the cold. The beech trees constantly strive upwards. They want to grow into tall trees while I cut them back again and again, preventing them from matur­ ing. The tops especially need pruning. The top marks the tree’s true objective and it is here that growth is fastest. The slashed surfaces behave like open wounds. Some of these wounds develop into strange lumps or fissures in the bark. Some of the branches die. When I originally planted the hedge I had some beech plants over. They are now part of the narrow strip of ‘forest’ on the northern edge of the garden. Eight plants at the same distance from each other as the plants that make up the hedge but that have been allowed to grow unpruned. They are now much larger and healthier, bare of leaves in winter and on their way to becoming adult trees.

I must confess to being infinitely fonder of trees than of other plants .

Trees are fantastic because one can climb up in them. One can also stand underneath them. They grow much taller than me and they go on getting bigger. They grow exponentially, increasing by a percent­ age factor each year. I don’t want to be like the people who get in a panic when they can no longer reach the tops of their trees to cut them back. Nevertheless, I am a little concerned that I have planted too many trees.

Trees are good for the environment .

They help to clean the air and they produce the oxygen that we need. “Trees are good” has always been my mantra. Trees are beauti­ ful, too, and complex. A tree is like an entire garden, a three-dimensional garden in the atmosphere. I recently learned that trees clean the air in just the same way as any mechanical filter. Dust particles fasten in the filter. Having large trees in one’s garden is like living under an open vacuum-cleaner dust bag. I still love trees. I feel good when I am in their presence, despite the fact that they are dusty.

Working in one’s garden can seem like a rather trivial form of agriculture . Working with the soil, digging down

until one loses the horizon, fastening at one specific point and seemingly getting nowhere. What I get out of it is a sense of forming my own territory in accordance with my own vision, however trivial this may seem. I determine the contours of the garden, the plants that grow there, and I decide which animals can live on my plot of land. I exploit the land in my own particular way.

If one includes all the ants, the population of my 足garden is enormous .

The ants are small, black ones that 足develop wings later in summer and fly off somewhere else. But plenty of them remain and they continue building their nests in spite of me doing everything to get them to move. Is my garden their total universe? The only place they know? Animals that turn up in ones and twos are easier to appreciate. Even if they are small. They can be dismissed as vermin, like weeds that have grown up in the wrong place. One can ask where their rightful place is. Where are they to live out their lives?

We fire up a large outdoor grill .

We burn trimmings from the garden and, because the grill is low on the ground, we can sit round it like a bonfire. All the fuel for the fire comes from the garden.

My dad always used to get annoyed if I did the washing up with the hot tap running .

We lived in an apartment block and wasting hot water did not have any economic consequences for the tenants. I carried on doing the washing up with the hot tap running – as surreptitiously as possible! My sense of responsibility for the environ­ ment was mostly romantic. In my one-family house there are economic as well as practical reasons for showing more concern for the environment. I have stopped doing the washing up in running water.

The sound of chainsaws is the first sign of spring here .

I hate this noise but I understand it. I, too, have bought a chainsaw. My neighbour showed me how to use it 足safely.

After the quick-fire solution using weed killer that had a deadly effect on my pine tree, I experienced something of a vacuum .

How should I deal with the weeds among the limestone paving on the drive? Should I spend days on my hands and knees pulling the weeds up one by one? Is there no way of killing weeds selectively? Somebody suggested that I should try a different approach: burning the weeds in situ. Fire destroys the weeds but not entirely. The grass somehow survives and soon reoccupies its place in the cracks among the paving stones.

My garden makes a statement about me, more than my ­choice of car or what I choose to wear. In my garden I give expression to my dreams. When I stop cultivating my garden, it is no longer my garden. It rapidly becomes a wilderness. Or someone else purchases the land and cuts down all the trees; starting all over again. A garden starts over and over again. With each new owner. Few people want just to carry on with the old owner’s plan.

A garden lasts only for as long as one occupies it.

I have decided to make a study of my own garden culti­ vation and to note down in writing what I do and why I do it .

I am trying to collect my thoughts and to make them more precise. But my thoughts about the garden are constantly interrupted by seeing new things that need to be dealt with. I pluck out a weed or two and then rake up some dry leaves, cut back twigs and branches or water the garden. All these simple actions that demand one’s attention, that are calming and monotonous in a familiar way. I have to go indoors if I am to distil some sort of substance from my vague thoughts about garden­ ing. I need to note down my reflections. I go back into the garden and look at what is going on there. And I gather together some impressions that can be pressed in an album like flowers in a collection.

Min trädgård – 2 × 30 reflektioner är formgiven av monika Gora & Johan Laserna språkgranskad av Måns Holst-Ekström och tryckt av holmbergs i malmö 2012 omslaget är gjort av spunnen plast som används till armering av jord i branta slänter ISBN 978-91-637-1472-6

'My Garden' by Monika Gora