We all now live in a COVID-19 world that is so different to the one we inhabited only a couple of months ago.
There are few aspects of how we live that have not changed. How then, will we cope after having been uprooted from the comforting familiarity of our usual lifestyles?
We are now bombarded with messages, warnings and obligatory rules regarding self-isolation, social distancing, personal practices while being exposed to daily updates of death tolls and infection rates.
Some of us, however, are blessed with access to a garden within which we might immerse ourselves, and momentarily return to its familiar beauty, fragrances and its gentle embrace.
For that is what we do when we garden. We find great solace, quiet, peace and often solitude in the garden. It attunes us to the surrounding sounds of Nature. We find joy in the birdsong, the unfurling of a leaf or frond, the utter satisfaction of growing something edible or beautiful from a tiny seed and rarely has there been a time when such things have become so valuable to us.
Spring has just arrived in the Northern Hemisphere, which is fortunate timing for gardening enthusiasts, if you had to find something positive in a dire situation such as these times. The days are getting longer and warmer, with all the usual telltale signs of Spring. Bulbs are popping up, birds are nest-building and there’s the appearance of the odd bumble bee.
But for the last few weeks things have been changing in Ireland in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Schools have been closed for two weeks, social activity has been curtailed and Ireland has gone quiet – even St Patrick’s Day did not escape. No pubs, restaurants or clubs are open. No GAA or rugby matches are being played. Up until last week, you could still find a garden centre open ready to sell any manner of essentials for the garden. Not so this week as the Government tightens restrictions on what stores can continue trading.
There have been warning signs that the horticulture sector was feeling the effects of the pandemic and the associated restrictions. Couriers delivering plants to my garden recently would not allow me to sign for the delivery in the usual way. Some wholesale nurseries I contacted in the course of my work as a garden designer said they would close indefinitely to keep their workers safe. In those cases some were keeping a full workforce to enable them to carry out potting up of trees, for example. In that way they would hit the ground running when the restrictions lift. In Ireland, the bare-root season has just ended so potted trees are available over late spring and summer.
At my local garden centre at the lovely village of Dundrum near Cashel in Co. Tipperary, there was panic buying last week when I visited as there was a rumour they were closing the following day. The owner said it had been a ‘crazy’ day of buying with everyone trying to have plants and supplies on hand for spring planting. Normally spring is busy but this year saw some days of frenzied buying she said.
In terms of the wholesale trade of plants, that may well survive intact. Most growers have plenty to keep them busy for a few weeks, even if they are not selling plants. And most are hopeful of resuming trade in a few weeks. That will coincide with purchases of bedding plants such as petunias and pelargoniums and other annuals which are hugely popular here for hanging baskets and pots. There are still companies offering online orders and deliveries so all is not lost.
An enchanted woodland
A serendipitous find right beside the garden centre at Dundrum is the Celtic Plantarum.
This is an area of eight acres of woodland garden created by Peter Alley, the same man who set up the neighbouring garden centre. It is a beautiful place with 2km of meandering paths taking the visitor past man made ponds and some reminders of the ancient celtic past. The most impressive is a life size crannog (or meeting house) situated on a pond.
And all this set amongst trees, shrubs and herbaceous plantings. The whole effect is one of interesting layered planting with plenty of foliage contrast. I can assure you there would be at least forty shades of green! A very timely escape from the ‘outside world’ for a while.
On a more philosophical note, this poem written by Irish poet Kathleen O’ Meara in 1869 is strangely applicable to our current global situation. Kathleen was writing about Ireland in the aftermath of the Great Famine in the 19th century. She writes ‘ And people stayed home, And read books and listened….and learned new ways of being….and listened deeper….and people began to think differently…..and when the danger ended, and people found each other, grieved for the dead people, and they made new choices, and dreamed new visions, and created new ways of life, and healed the earth completely, just as they were healed themselves’.
That close contact with landscape and the earth we call gardening will undoubtedly help in that healing process for us all.