Amanda Cooper: The sanctuary of my garden in lockdown

Amanda Cooper, Garden Owner at Bolters Farm, Chipping Norton shares her experiences of her garden in lockdown.

“Two robins spent the whole of yesterday building a nest in the down pipe outside our window. It must be their second attempt as we are now into mid-May. Perhaps they are bad choosers? They have built a spacious condominium, with panoramic views, but next time it rains the contents will be washed away – their sanctuary down the drain.

I’ve spent fifteen years building my own nest in the garden and it is not quite finished. However, it is sturdy and keeps the wind out – it even has running water. Nowhere do we feel that sanctuary is more readily given than in our very own patch, whether it is a windowsill, part of an allotment or, in the case of the robins, the downpipe of some old guttering. My garden is a creative and physical retreat from the world – my safe place – especially now, in a time when lockdown has caused many of us to look a little more closely at our inner selves, which is not always comfortable viewing. Perhaps we’ve been searching in the wrong places for gratification, but this enforced gardening leave has meant that many of us have had to go back to basics. Those who are growing things for the very first time are re-discovering instincts they never knew they had, and even more surprisingly, that peace of mind does not necessarily emanate from a small screen.

 

Gardening requires a certain leap of faith… faith in yourself, faith in seeds, and certainly faith in the weather. The gardeners that I know are accustomed to all manner of intrusions from the feathered, furry or pestilent kind, and as a result, are fairly philosophical about life.  After all, there is always a chance that the pigeons might NOT eat the lettuces and the frost does not catch your new potatoes – as it did in my father’s vegetable garden in 1973. So traumatised was he by this calamity, that he placed a small upturned flower pot over every young spud every night for the rest of his gardening life. Certainly, he tended that plot with military zeal, priding himself on producing a fresh lettuce every day of the summer and keeping his grass edges in regimental format. Woe betide anyone who inadvertently trod on one of those! He was dubbed ‘The Major’.

It is perhaps a small miracle, then, that my brother and I went on to enjoy gardening in adulthood given the amount of minor (and major) dramas that we had to endure. Later on at school, I quickly discovered something I could relate to in the shape of a gardening club. If ever there was a sanctuary for me then it was in that derelict walled garden, rather pretentiously known as ‘The Italian Garden’ – its similarity to the Boboli gardens in Florence having long faded from view. Once a dreamer, always a dreamer I embarked on creating my very own, most Secret of Gardens having been heavily influenced by Mary in the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  My father, always a bit of a maverick, was only too happy to smuggle in various tools and flowers that contributed to a phase which I have never outgrown. These days I have to smile when I find myself adopting the exact pose as father used to, prior to an onslaught on the lawn edges. Forty years later his grandson is sending me photographs of red chillies flourishing on his tiny balcony in Myanmar and I like to think, much like my dad, I must have done something right.

 

Visiting other gardens was not something we did with ‘The Major’ (too busy in his own) but now that so many  –  both private and public  – have opened their doors, anyone can wander through someone else’s haven, all the while deriving peace and pleasure and a bit of gardening know-how. Today, however, at the time of writing, plagued by the fear of Coronavirus, these shared sanctuaries are sadly out of bounds. Even churches have closed their doors for the first time since 1208. Considered by many to be hallowed grounds, places to retreat at times of uncertainty, their closure feels like a violation of our emotional as well as physical space. We can’t help feeling a slight sense of ownership for our public parks, gardens and religious sanctuaries even if we have no inclination to set foot inside the building.

Whatever the scale and size of your particular slice of Eden, it feels like a permanent fixture and it forms the bedrock of reality from which you can go out and face life. I am reminded of the popular little rustic sign ‘I’M IN THE GARDEN’ – which could easily be my epitaph, because I will be. Years later I can sympathise with my father, only now truly understanding that the obsession he had with his garden was also his way of blocking out the world.

A reluctant starter on the garden opening front, it has given us more pleasure than we could have imagined. Sharing our plot with so many like-minded visitors has been a revelation. So much shared knowledge and interesting anecdotes. Unfortunately we cannot open again until Covid-19 has blown itself out but our garden has taken on a new importance since the pandemic began; never before have we had to rely so heavily upon the sanctuary that it offers.”

To read our Report ‘Gardens and Coronavirus 2020’ click here: Survey Results September 2020

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