Over the years of being at Hillside we’ve worked out that there is a breathing point in the season at the end of September. The apples will stay on the trees, we can delay autumn by heading south and when we return it will be the optimum time to get planting again. So, earlier in the month, we put down our responsibilities and took three weeks in Greece.
To cover for the break we made the usual flurry before leaving to bring in and store the last of the harvest and left instructions with the house sitters to water this and not that and to pick the pears and keep an eye on the seedlings in the cold frames. We also worked hard to ensure the design team in the studio had everything they needed to progress without us while we were away. Busy time. Heads in the future. Heads down to clear the time.
Three weeks makes for a perfect holiday. A first week to decompress, a safe week in the middle in which time becomes elastic and a week to gently ready yourself for returning. For once, time slows and with it comes clarity. It is time to take stock.
This year I set myself the task of clearing my head of the noise that comes with leading a full life. Self-made and external expectations. The subliminal demands that come with multi-tasking, snatched time and fast-track communication by email, Zoom and social media. A decision to put down my phone and ration my interaction with it on day one was shockingly effective. The noise almost instantly silenced. I felt listless for a couple of days and initially found it hard to feel in touch with my surroundings. A place I know well, which is deliberately out in the nowhere and undemanding for its isolation. But once my mind slowed, the environment came into focus. The smell of the mountainside, the shifting quality of light, the sounds and rhythms of the day and a sense of real time passing.
Once I’d touched down, it became apparent that the clarity that comes with a more mindful approach to the day is something that I’ve known since I was small. Intimate time, thoughtful time in which you can ponder your actions and make plans. The time that comes when you keep yourself in the now. I have understood this all along, but been overwhelmed repeatedly – to the point at which one simply cannot ‘see’ through the day-to-day of a busy life. To have found gardening so early on and to know that I can be myself there is a gift. So, in an attempt to retain my holiday clarity, I have decided that the diversions of the full life have to work around the garden and not the garden around the life.
It is always good to return to Hillside and to be part of a place that we nurture and responds by giving back on so many different levels. The beauty is in the process. Real time marked in seedlings that were sown before I went away and have now germinated. Seeds with inbuilt histories that were given to me by friends or arrived in the post and like magic are already showing me what they are made of. The time spent observing the germination and particularities and learning in the doing. In handling the seedlings when pricking out. The attending to and the readying and the getting to know the optimum time for a plant to go into its new home. A cold frame full of potential. Learning how a plant lives its life.
One of the tasks in the rush before leaving was to make sure all the bulbs were ordered and ready for my return and re-engagement. With their embedded energy, stored like a memory and released by planting, they bring the past, the now and the future sharply into focus. Rust-coloured Eremurus for the new sand garden, with their curious, spidery roots and bulbs to extend the damp meadows that sit on the flanks of the brook. Snake’s Head Fritillaries that I hope will seed and proliferate and Leucojum aestivum to arch, pale and delicately, above the yellow flare of marsh marigolds.
Six year’s ago I saved seed from some smoky Camassia, which at that point Avon Bulbs were calling ‘Amethyst Strain’ (now named ‘Stellar Hybrids’), a perfect name, if you can imagine all the colours of a crystal at play. I imagined them rising through a sea of Fritillaria meleagris, of which John has this week planted another thousand. The Camassia seedlings flowered in their fourth spring after sowing and have now grown large enough to cope with the fecundity of growth which rears up when the meadow kicks in. Let us hope that the time I have willingly waited will be repaid in vigour and that they decide they like where I have imagined their futures.
We tucked them into soil still warm from the summer and in so doing marked in the mind’s eye the beginning of the next growing season. Spears of violet, mauve and deep, smoky purple ascending though the chequered fritillarias and the acid green of nearby Euphorbia palustris. Springtime and real time marked in growth.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 28 October 2023