One of the things I like most about the allotments is how each has its own personality.
There is one plot neatly ordered into straight, masculine rows so the plants line up like little Roman soldiers. Not a single weed grows there. There is a whimsical, daisy-and-dandelion-strewn plot with a gate in the middle which leads neither in nor out. There are unkempt, ramshackle allotments where nettles burst out of rusty bathtubs and beanpoles left over from last year collapse against each other like dominoes.
There are traditional plots and ambitiously eccentric plots. There are wild plots, some untouched by human hand for long enough for nature’s green tendrils to creep in and begin to take over. One allotment has a collection of animal skulls nailed to the shed wall.
I like to ponder on what each says about its keeper, as though peering into another person’s inner world. Each has its own aura and adds to the beauty of the allotments as a whole: a living temple in all its tumbledown glory, an antidote to deadening monoculture, a sanctuary.
We finally spent some time on the allotment over Easter weekend – fittingly, the pagan festival of Ostara, goddess of the dawn and of of spring. We decided on a roughly circular design for our raised beds – a mandala of sorts.
From the Sanskrit word meaning ‘circle’, the mandala represents wholeness and the universe, the never-ending cycle of life. It is a symbol of revolution in its broader sense – from the Latin revolvere, to revolve, meaning movement in or as if in a circle: the wheel of the year, the sun and the moon, the cosmos. In another sense, growing our own food is one of the most revolutionary things we can do.
Carl Jung called the mandala “a safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness… the psychological expression of the totality of the self.” A kind of conceptual garden, then, or perhaps the wholeness I seek through writing.
All this might sound rather grandiose for our humble allotment. But poets will tell you that gardens are really about everything:
The garden of the world has no limits
Except in your mind.
Its presence is more beautiful than the stars
With more clarity
Than the polished mirror of your heart. – Rumi
And besides. It will look nice.
Into the beds we planted out some of the seedlings which the snails didn’t eat in the greenhouse: broad beans, courgettes, beetroot, chard, runner beans and chitted potatoes from the garden centre. Emer created a beautiful strawberry patch while I dug flower borders around the edges and sprinkled them with calendula, love-in-a-mist, nasturtium and wildflower seeds.
And yet no matter how many seeds I plant, how many afternoon walks I take in the bluebell woods, how deeply I breathe the blossom-scented air and feel the warmth of sun on my skin – this inner feeling of ongoing winter persists. There’s a greyness, a lethargy, which I just can’t seem to shake.
Normally after the cold, dark days of the British winter, I feel a natural surge of energy inside me as the sap rises and the days lengthen.
Not so this year.
Some days, getting anything much done at all feels like wading through treacle. Part of me wants to stay indoors with my dressing gown on and the curtains closed.
Being a stay-at-home mum of one, staying in my dressing gown is admittedly more of an option for me than it is for most other people. But I’ve been wondering lately. After two years of pregnancy and breastfeeding, with my body finally starting to resemble something akin to ‘my own’, why am I not emerging butterfly-like into the sun, embracing my new freedoms, rekindling old friendships and pastimes?
Of course, I’ve changed. I’ve just been on the most physically demanding journey of my life and after long months of interrupted sleep I’m feeling a little tired. I don’t have a car when Mat’s at work, so being a stay-at-home mum means a lot of staying at home.
My priorities have undergone a revolution, too. I care full-time for an amazing one-year old, keep our house from deteriorating into a biohazard, and am slowly chipping away at being a writer. That’s enough to fill my days, even if I struggle with the nagging sensation that I should be doing more.
So instead of questioning and railing against this inner winter, I’ve decided to embrace it.
For all things move in cycles, and the passing of winter can mean only one thing.
Spring will come.