Learning From Nature

Very few gardeners are not also garden visitors: to a point, the converse is also true. In this way gardening, more than, say, Formula One Racing or the Opera, offers numerous fertile pathways between democratic participation and the Spectacle. As with any broadly creative pursuit, garden creators can be too immersed in the subject to see it in its entirety, in the moment, as the outside observer can. For the latter, the land can be still, a snap shot, whereas for the site worker it is all process, never a finished piece. I enjoy regular recreational walks round our little cultivated clearing in the Forest, but don’t always capture an unobstructed view of the wood for the trees, the garden for the weeds, the field for its soil needs.

I make it my business, then, not to mind my own business now and then throughout the season: visits to farms and gardens form part of my work plan: this year, Shillingford and Chagford in Devon; in London Town, Sutton Community Farm, St. Matts and Kynaston Patchwork sites, have had to suffer pokes from my big nose. It’s not just the odd new plant or new trick I’m sniffing around for, but to experience a growing space as it is, naked of to-do lists.

This is not to say satori moments don’t happen to me of the other gardeners here at Hawkwood, only, the stars have to be aligned and the plant combinations have to reach their moment of supreme poise. A moment in a million, just a few times a season. After a few years on the land though, you start to sense it coming. And any minute now, I know I’m going to blunder into the glasshouse and be stopped in my tracks by a picture of perfection.
Here, the flowering strips, and the cordon tomatoes intercropped with mixed lettuces and herbs, are on the verge of greatness. It’s noteworthy that these early beds were sown and planted by the Level 2 Gardening course: a fact I take great pleasure from. When I formally studied horticulture, much of my class’ practical assignments were rotavated back into the ground the following day, whilst others were tucked out of sight of the public garden, receiving little ongoing maintenance between sessions. We learnt, the hard way, the value of regular irrigation, and that plant pests didn’t actually take Easter breaks.

At Hawkwood, we wanted to do things a little differently: to fully integrate course participants into the garden work schedule. Sure it takes some coordination, but we wanted the garden and the learners to get the most out of each other. And, after many terms of extra-curriculur work by Clare, our Training & Outreach Worker, I think we have symbiosis. Last year, fifty six people completed the Level One Practical Gardening Skills course here, graduating back to the land in myriad ways whilst making a real contribution to the local food economy through their structured practical sessions.

In nature news, we appear to have pied wagtails nesting in the glasshouse, alongside the two magpies, who I’m still not sure are one hundred percent welcome. The rare Nathusius’ pipistrelle bat is one of five species recently monitored flashing across our fields after sunset, and last week I opened the warehouse door to find myself face to beak with a tiny blue tit, nesting material still wrapped around its tiny feet. This year, the tits nested in the tool shed: a source of intense squeaks and wonder. Then, after another fledgling was spotted in the glasshouse, peering in on the coursework, on Friday, it all went quiet.

End of May, 2014. Learning to fly.

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