In autumn I began cutting back the Japanese anemones as they finished blooming. Then I became ill again and the last few still in flower were left to look after themselves. The flowers fell, the tips of the canes where they had been turning to white cotton. This held a novelty for a while, but then they began to look shabby.
I felt the same way, heading into winter barely able to walk from one room to another. Shabbiness in the garden was not a high priority. Keeping myself clean and fed was.
There was no one to tell of the strange beauty of the garden’s shabbiness and the sad-looking anemones. Nor was there anyone to tell of my ongoing battle with the ivy and bindweed from next door, of the protectiveness I felt as, barely able to stand, I watched these invaders trying to smother my precious plants. It fired up an anger that carried me outside to uproot the offenders, and brought me back to bed, shaking but filled with virtuous satisfaction. For this I paid a price of several weeks of pain.
There was no one to tell how the karamu whispers on moonlit nights in winter when other trees are bare. No one to show the beauty of their leaves, the way they display and shine, or how the sunlight calls in a golden voice when it lands on their glossy green curves or the orange berries. There is no-one to tell. I have tried before but the words come out sounding oddly bent and the looks on the faces of those I tried to tell were even more disturbing.
There is no one to tell how I feel privileged to bear witness, even if I bear it alone. I am grateful for the joy in the sight of the first violet of spring and of my faithful self seeding alyssum popping up in a new position, through another crack in the concrete – grateful, and rather guilty for my neglect, unavoidable though it is. My garden has become self-surviving and I tell myself that plants are like children, they need to learn independence. I shower them with love whenever I can and they do all the rest.
There is no one to tell how delight in little things brings joy out of proportion to a life cut short in activity. Maybe that is just as well. It means I can continue to delight in my little friends with all their quirks and not feel self-conscious. They do not mind that I am slow and forgetful, that I struggle with words and they do not seem to hold my frequent absences and neglect against me.
Love is a verb but sometimes I wonder whether it might not be more apt to call it a herb.
Grace Carlyle lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.
Read another article by Grace Carlyle on Corpus: Through the fog: book by book