In our garden there are at least 200,000 bulbs flowering – I just can’t see them. We closed the property down on Tuesday this week to most staff, having closed it to visitors on Saturday when almost 1000 people turned up to enjoy the colours, scents and space. In less than 16 gated acres these numbers represent too many challenges: the outdoors suddenly took on indoor characteristics, where social distancing could not be guaranteed.
It took every ounce of my self-control to not feel overwhelmed on Tuesday at leaving years of work poised and ready to spring forth in to flower, bud and fruit. To not feel a huge, numbing and reductive sense of loss that would inhibit my own ability to do anything good for anybody, including myself. What helped? Two things. My closest friend is an oncology consultant working in the NHS in London. Every text exchange or short conversation with her provides a context and a purpose to my own small contributions during this awful time that restores my own personal equilibrium. Her sense of vocation has always felt a little heroic to me, even in our silly teens – now, her commitment, bravery and leadership compares to those that we honour after war.
Spring helps. Every year, spring does come. Nothing stops its energy, its vibrance and its technicolour. Nothing stops its signal of hope, of better to come. Spring rewards planning and patience every year. The gifts of spring all around us have always demanded that we wait, that we trust that in the natural world’s ‘pause’ of winter.
My own small contributions? Each member of the garden team is caring for valuable plants at home, ensuring we have summer in the garden as best as we are able.
I’m keeping in touch with those that are more isolated than me. I’m working remotely with my colleagues on how we might interact with our volunteers, our friends, many of whom have health issues or a handsome number of years on the clock. Each of them is used to working in the open air, using their admirable mature energy positively and now, they too are inhibited, under controlled measures.
Within my exercise allowance, I am delivering Ham House Garden flowers to those that might appreciate them that can’t buy or grow themselves – daffodils first and now tulips that have been kept in cooler storage, their closed buds beginning to open, full of promise.
I’m waiting to hear what my job will entail, whether anything I do is regarded as ‘essential’ – growing food, keeping trees, checking on livestock. I am grateful for the National Trust’s commitment to its staff: I am safe as we work out what we could possibly do that might make things ever so slightly better.
This morning in my tiny suburban garden the great tits are devouring the bird food, the pigeons are queuing in wait on the fence, the wind is ruffling the tiny rose buds and each of these things count. They always do.
" Each member of the garden team is caring for valuable plants at home, ensuring we have summer in the garden."