Back in June I spent many hours in the garden preparing for a charity open gardens day and a photo shoot by the esteemed photographer, Jason Ingram. I had a mental list of tasks that I ticked off at the end of each long light evening. My activity was results focused, with an unrealistic but motivating ideal picture in my mind.
Jason arrived early one bright morning and set about capturing the essence of a garden where a very mixed community of plants dominates rather than lawn. Marnie, our Tibetan Terrier, enjoyed a bit of fuss in her quiet way. “Is she old, Jim?” Jason enquired. “No!” I replied “Only 6 ½”. Then came the open day and 200 people through the garden. Later over a drink on the Terrace, my partner Richard and I reflected on the kind feedback and all the questions that I had done my best to answer accurately and honestly. Marnie seemed overly relieved to have her space back. It had all been a bit too much for her. Looking back there had been other signs she wasn’t well – less interest in food, tiring quickly during ball games. A few days later she was diagnosed with an aggressive lymphoma and we made the agonizing decision to have her put to sleep.
Then Richard’s mum, Moyra, was diagnosed with cancer after a lengthy stay in hospital. She was moved into St Gemma’s hospice in Leeds – a beautiful place in so many ways with carefully designed rooms, caring staff, a chapel and lovely grounds. Richard prayed the rosary with her. His siblings and her husband of 66 years kept their own vigils. I visited regularly. Her short-term memory lost to dementia she would make the same enquiry repeatedly. “How’s the garden, Jamie?” And I would struggle to answer. My garden seemed nothing.
Moyra slipped away and Richard and I rushed from Leeds to Yeovil where my 95-year-old mum was failing fast. She was restless but unresponsive. It was my turn to say what I needed to. The next morning a call from the care home to say she had died.
In the months that followed there was a lot to process and practical matters to attend to. And through it all I gardened. Outwardly my work appeared unchanged but it was the process rather than goals that was important now. I thought about mum a lot. She had been a keen gardener. She had taught me how to ‘read’ a plant that might be thirsty, hungry, happy or sad. Her anthropomorphic language had suited me as child and while I may now be well educated in the biology of plants and use more scientific language it is the close attention she demonstrated that is important. And close attention to anything has a meditative quality and meditation is healing.