The aspect from a window into
the garden has been my 'world' this summer. I've
had to view it as an outsider, without lifting
a spade or hoe to maintain its sub-tropical, blooming
lushness as I've been confined for weeks after
Years ago my mother warned
me not to kneel on wet earth, chop down
trees or double-dig a half acre vegetable plot.
I gave up the vegetables and since, I've had
the joy of designing and planting a new garden,
which, sadly, my mother never saw. To garden
is fundamental to the women in our family and
it's a characteristic that both my sister, myself
and our offspring, have inherited in our growing
genes. She would nag constantly in that way mothers
do, "You should take care of your knees....
when you get older, they'll be the first thing
to let you down", she didn't intend to be
ironic, and of course I took no notice, and,
of course, she was right!
The time had come to 'bite
the bullet': every step was painfully
miserable and after several months of faffing
around, I had a knee replacement in early summer.
It's been a curious experience of being out of
touch with reality, especially in the first weeks
that blurred into an analgesic induced haze;
if anything, I'm now able to empathise with those
being housebound and dependent on others to be
taken out. Sleeping was difficult and I spent
many afternoons dozing and doing exercises from
bed, just looking at the outside world, particularly
the garden, getting along without me. I've found
it quite acceptable to have made 'friends' with
a pair of collared doves; such gentle, elegant
creatures, cooing and canoodling and trusting
enough to be hand-fed....well, that was what
I thought until I saw the ferocity of their attack
on a magpie!
I was convinced that I
was hallucinating and the Tramadol were
getting the better of me on the day that a mundane
agave, growing insignificantly in the gravel
garden for ten years, began to change shape.
Something peculiar began to emerge from its centre.
A bulbous, green reptilian head like a vegetarian
variant of the 'Alien', 'chestburster', pushed
through the fronds, growing at an alarming rate
of at least 3 ft a week, until it reached around
20ft. The green 'head' unwound, spiral-like,
sending out 'branches' to create a skeletal,
triangular shape that flowered into cascades
of the most beautiful creamy-yellow blossom.
Is it odd to say that I
feel privileged to have experienced a
plant manifest such palpable life force.? To
think it's spent a decade building up the energy
to reproduce itself so spectacularly just to
die. I sent a photograph to the RHS magazine
for interest and the editor of The Plantsman.
Mike Grant, identified it as a Furcraea Parmentieri.
It's monocarpic (dies after flowering) and in
the florescence there are numerous acorn-sized
bulbets ready to begin the process again. This
plants indigenous home is the arid deserts of
Mexico and it's not something that we expect
to see, living in Cornwall.
I'm happily content having
my hands covered in earth, weeding, dead-heading
and waiting for plants to flourish as they takes
their chance against the capricious Cornish climate,
so being physically incapable, has been like watching
a slow motion traverse through someone else's summer
where flowers have unfolded, flowered and faded
in a parallel universe from which I've been detached
Summer began as
the wisteria began to lose its froth of smokey,
lilac-grey clusters that had smothered the pergola.
Here we are in September; the striking spikes of
echium are contorted and shrivelled and the agapanthus
blooms have dimmed beyond their blue brilliance.
The air already has a morning chill and there's
a dank smell of autumn on the unpicked sloes and
blackberries, while diamond-bright dew sparkles
on the spiders' webs.
Part of me is sad that
this has been a 'lost' summer. But the future is
good; I've got a new knee, I'm independent again
and I'm beginning to wonder how lovely, and perverse,
the crazy Mexican plant will look covered in Christmas
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