It was to be a week of physical endeavour with all the old tools, the mattock, peck, shovel and bushman saw, to be deployed. To what end? The removal of previous garden making, a willow pergola along with its associated planting, a golden spruce. After twenty years this grouping had outgrown its space and needed to make way for something new.
“Every breath you take, every move you make” was the lyric which provided the backing track to my labours, fitting because two decades of growth had created deep roots, their removal generating a lot of heavy breathing by me the human excavator.
One thing of course can lead to another. In the first instance the song’s refrain prompted a delving into the old cassette tape library and sure enough there it was, the recording of the album which included my companion lyric. Synchronicity was the fifth and final studio album by the Police. It was recorded in 1983 and won wide acclaim, voted album of the year by readers of the Rolling Stone magazine, and regarded as being “occasionally sensational” by the other music mag of the day, the New Musical Express. The title of the album had been inspired by a reading of Arthur Koestler’s book ‘the roots of coincidence’. And indeed following on from my impromptu humming, creative synchronous happenings came to pass for me over the ensuing few weeks.
First of all was the visual evidence of the fruits of my labours, a big patch of earth. What garden making could fill the space? Assorted shrubs, herbaceous border, beds of annuals, all flitted in and out of my mind until an article by Alys Fowler (1), not for the first time, showed me the way. To what? Before her answer is considered another bit of coincidence came into play.
Recent holiday reading had been a re-reading of “A Life of Montaigne’ by Sarah Bakewell. My re-visit had been prompted by a reviewer reminding me that it was a work which always “inspired hope”. “No bad thing” I thought in these troubled times so I packed it. Now it’s a big book packed with food for thought. “Read a lot”, Montaigne exhorts “then forget most of what you read” on the understanding that only real nuggets of insight will stay with you. Seneca was a writer whom Montaigne never forgot particularly his maxim that “salvation lies in paying full attention to nature.” (2) Later in life with years advancing, “dragging him towards death, “he calmed himself by drawing on another of his guiding tenets “and calmed himself by looking back with pleasure over his youth and childhood.”(3)
These sentiments came back to me when I read Alys Fowler’s account of her recent trip to Romania and her delight at “seeing every field full to the brim with flowers”.(3) The juxtaposition instantly took my mind back to childhood explorations of the Evenlode valley in Oxfordshire. Cowslips,, marsh marigolds, primroses and lady’s smock, meadow cranesbill all grew in abundance there while its sheltered limestone banks were home to bee orchids and meadow clary. By the time I had moved away the water meadows and marsh had been drained and their flora lost. Such habitat loss along with the life forms it supports has been the story of our age.
“Time then” as Alys says “to fight back” by replicating in miniature the transylvanian paradise she discovered. Inspired, I followed her advice and pledged to fill my new bare space with a sowing of wild flower and grass seed. An order with Emorsgate seeds was duly placed. Before their assorted mixtures arrived, I received an unexpected boost to my proposed garden making. I was out on my bike and stopped at a tea room and bric a brac emporium in Ford, not far from Berwick. While waiting for my toastie, I cast my eyes over the shelves of stuff. A slim book caught my eye; ‘Wordsworth’s Flowers’ by Stanley Finch, illustrations by Muriel Harrison (4) In what must have been a labour of love for them both, Wordsworth’s observations of flowers and their place in his life and poetry is fully recorded and celebrated. A quick flick through told me that his favourite was the daisy, closely followed by the celandine. I took some small pleasure in knowing that both ‘prophets of delight’ flourish at Innisfree and duly bought the book. Moreover, what better inspiration for more wildflower planting than Wordsworth’s words.
Before I was actually ready to put my plan into action synchronicity took another turn. A sort out of old school books precipitated a Montaigne like reverie and backward look. My A level notes on English literature emerged from the old tin trunk and there he was; Wordsworth. A re-read of some essays took me back in time to a moment when the poet had had a big effect on me. Our set text was ‘The Prelude’, books one and two. In one essay I had been drawn to these specific lines:
“I held unconscious intercourse with beauty
Old as creation, drinking in a pure
Organic pleasure from the silver wreaths
Of curling mist..”
I guess back then Wordsworth’s evocation of mist over Buttermere had called to my mind those I often saw in the Evenlode valley. Such it seems were the thoughts of an impressionable seventeen year old!
Still to be re-calling all this now gave a timely impetus to my earlier tea shop discovery of Wordsworth and his lifelong paen to common flowers along with my new garden making plans. By the time the Emorsgate seeds arrived my patch was ready for their sowing; weed free and with a fine tilth as advised. A new gardening moment was underway. It had been supercharged by way of synchronicities with others, past and present. And there was one more coincidental happening just around the corner to give it a final boost.
Out and about in Alnwick, I went into Barter Books, the ultimate second hand book shop. There leaping out at me, as if on cue and waiting for a new beginning, was a copy of the Prelude in its entirety. I bought it as much for old times sake as anything else. It was destined. however, to take on an unexpected significance. An article appeared in the Guardian that same week which demanded that I give it more attention than a brief trip down memory lane via books one and two. How? Well as an antidote to the here and now stimuli of digital communications with its sound bites, skimmed reading and twitter length writing, Joe Moran extols the virtues of ‘deep reading’, a reflective immersion in a text. For him it offers the prospect of considered insights. Montaigne would have approved. Well with all thirteen sections or ‘books’ of the Prelude now in my possession, I am on course for my own long if not deep read. As I do so I will be hoping that my wildflower seeds are settling in. “Daisies, celandines”, as the song from the Police’s album said “I’ll be watching you!”
Fowler. A. Guardian weekend magazine 8/9/18
Bakewell. S. How to Live. A life of Montaigne. 2011. Vintage
Fowler. op cit.
Finch.S and Harrison M. Wordsworth’s Flowers. Lunesdale Press. 1982
Moran. J. Guardian magazine. 9/18