Common Ground – April 2020

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

Little we see in Nature that is ours….”


Spring starts in earnest here in the valley with the first snowdrops and the call of the white throated sparrow. It never ceases to amaze me that the tiny snowdrops bloom while still encased in ice.

Snowdrops are one of the few flowers that are resilient enough to be dug up and divided while they’re flowering. I am always moving them around and they don’t seem to mind at all.

My first early spring outside project has been to give the wild garden a good going over and thorough clean up. A wild garden is still a garden and needs some sorting out from time to time. There were lots of fallen branches and the dogwoods looked a bit raggedy. There is too much periwinkle (shouldn’t have planted that….) that will need to be dealt with in the future. This garden is full of tiny naturalised bulbs (mostly scilla) that I look forward to seeing every spring.

I also look forward to those spring days where we look like a misty Avalon.The warm air meeting cold ground produces a most amazing special effect. The silhouette of the bare trees  creates a witchy backdrop to the swirling mist. In the midst of what seems to be global chaos, I’m trying not to let the world be with me too much as it was with Wordsworth. If it’s too much with you, here are a few suggestions that might provide some useful distraction.

Plan a victory garden. There has been lots of talk about this and I think it’s a great idea. Those of you who have never grown a carrot might want to try growing your own vegetables. It’s not, as the saying goes, rocket science. The garden of the mind is perfect and wonderful which is very satisfying. The victory part of the exercise is the triumph of useful thought over unproductive worry.

Mark spaces to plant bulbs in the fall while your bulbs are flowering in the spring. Trust me, you will not remember where those tulips are in October. I like to use those little bamboo skewers for this. They fade to grey and are not obtrusive.

Plant self seeded annuals like California poppies. These are best planted in the fall but early spring works, too. They need the freeze and thaw cycles to germinate so plant them early. And once you have them they should self seed. Learn to recognise the seedlings and you will have them for a long time.

Walk in the woods and enjoy the spring ephemerals like hepaticas and bloodroots. These appear before the trees leaf out, bloom briefly and then  are gone for another year. Pay attention or you’ll miss them.

And if you’re tired out from walking and gardening…..

Read a classic. Not a dystopian one or heaven forbid, Middlemarch (unless you want to punish yourself). I’ve been reading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass first published in 1855. The edition I have was published in Canada in 1945 in “full compliance with all war production board conservation orders”. The rather prim introduction says that Whitman rambles and doesn’t organise his thoughts very well. Who among us has not rambled? That made me like him before I had even read the book.

Whitman’s poetry and prose are so full of positivity that it practically jumps off the page.

I particularly like the tribute he pays to the carpenters and builders. How many other poets have mentioned mortises and tenons?

Some of the decluttering people have tried to rid us of our older books but we need our classics now. Classics are proof that technology may change but human nature never does.

And conversely it’s also helpful to….

Read something light and entertaining. These are not the times for weighty tomes about politics and the deep state. A cozy mystery by the fire with one of the resident cats feels appropriate when the world  feels like it’s going you know where.

As Thomas King said in The Dead Dog Cafe,

“Stay calm, be brave and wait for the signs.”

Happy spring everyone.

By Jill Williams



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