Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Midsummer…and the fullness thereof.

Have you noticed that there comes a point in every growing season at which everything suddenly seems to take off? One minute, there is space between plants and the next minute there is a mini-jungle happening. In the gardens, in the hedgerows, everywhere, there is a burgeoning of fertility that leaves one breathless.

The Devon lanes I walk along each morning seem to have become dark, green, growing canyons overnight, their high walls a tangle of brambles and nettles, grass and wildflowers. There are grass heads drooping heavily with seed, swirls of pollen in the honeysuckle-scented air, wild strawberries ripening, foxgloves surfing the white waves of cow parsley, insects buzzing to and fro, butterflies dancing, wrens quivering with song. Only the robins have fallen silent, hidden now in this vast greenness.

So much growth is happening around me that I feel almost breathless. I am drowning in those waves of white and green. I am being strangled by vines and trampled by trees. I find myself gasping at the sheer hugeness of the life force that is moving through the land—and through me—at an amperage so great it could burn me out like a light bulb.

Many people re-package Nature in their minds into a pretty, decorative concept—something to admire through a window, in a vase or on TV. Others, seeking direct contact with Nature’s raw reality, climb the mountains, raft the rapids, hike the trails and pitch their tents in the back country, the domain of bears or rattlesnakes.

I have done both. I, too, have ‘loved’ Nature as brought to you by Hallmark. And I, too, have laced up my walking boots and set off into the wilderness. Right now, in the warm, fecund fullness of this midsummer, I just went for my morning walk with all the doors of my senses wide open, and feared I might die from it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Welcome to our Garden, Tullio Two.

Fig trees are not something one would normally associate with cool, damp England, even in this milder, south-western part of it where I live. But the gardening catalogue assured me that the Brown Turkey fig grows quite happily here. And I know that to be true because there’s one in the village that yields dozens of ripe figs every year. So I ordered a fig tree. A small one, in a container.

A crazy thing to do of course, given our tiny, already-crowded garden. But there was one warm spot with nothing growing in it. The little fig tree, in its pot, was a perfect fit.

I’ve named it Tullio Two.

Gardening, for me, is not just about growing food. It’s about relationships. Relationships with plants, with the other creatures who share our space and sometimes even with people.

Tullio Zola was a tall, thin, affable, Italian man with sparse grey hair, glasses and impeccably gracious, old-fashioned, European manners. If you had ever enjoyed a bottle of wine with dinner in Melbourne’s elegant Windsor Hotel, it would probably have been Tullio who advised you on the vintage. You would have been well pleased with his choice. Tullio knew his wine. He knew good food. He knew figs, too. In his garden he had a huge, spreading fig tree. Sometimes it would throw up suckers from its extensive roots.

It is said that root suckers don’t always make good trees in their own right. So I had low expectations of the one that Tullio dug up and gave to me in a pot. I stuck it in the ground. But when the Spring came, nothing happened. I decided it was probably dead. Being the lazy gardener that I am, I simply left it there. Another whole year went by and still it sat there, this thin, brown stick, a foot high, doing nothing.

Until, suddenly one day, late in the second Spring, it sprouted a leaf. And then another.

I thought to name it Lazarus, this little thing that had returned from the dead. But instead I called it Tullio in honour of the old man from whose garden it had sprung.

Fifteen years later, when Tullio the man died. I helped to arrange his funeral. Meanwhile, Tullio the tree had been steadily growing bigger and bigger, and every year it produced more and more delicious, juicy figs. Eventually, in order to pick them all, I had to climb up into its branches. What an amazing feeling that was: perching high in the branches of a tree I had known and loved since it was a twelve-inch high stick!

I felt a deep kinship with that tree. So much so that when I left that place for the last time, I found it harder to say goodbye to the tree than I did to the house.

Melbourne’s climate suits figs really well. Devon, England, not so much. But Tullio Two is a Brown Turkey fig and it will survive here. Maybe even thrive. This morning I noticed several new leaves. I think it likes the spot I chose.

I doubt I’ll ever climb it. But I’ll love it. And if it ever gives me ripe figs I will eat them slowly and reverently, like a sacrament. Welcome to our garden, Tullio Two!