The Good Life Michele Hewitson
Trying to impose order on nature is a fool’s errand, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.
The first of our bearded irises came into bloom recently, just in time for our second set of spring visitors. This was most obliging of them (the visitors for coming all this way, but also of the irises). Sometimes plants can be obliging, but it doesn’t do to rely on them. They are wild things, after all, and go their own way, in their own time.
A nice chap wrote to the Listener not long ago to tell me to go on singing to my sheep, despite my having been told, as a tot, that I was tone deaf. I have taken his wise and kind advice and stepped it up a notch: I now also sing to my plants.
You can do these sorts of crazy things in the country, where nobody can send the men in white coats to carry you away. So I sing: you can’t hurry plants/no, you just have to wait/plants don’t come easy/but it’s a game of give and take.
You also can’t be done for plagiarism if nobody, except the plants, is there to bear witness. At least, that’s my theory.
I once thought that you could tame plants, but as every gardener eventually discovers, they are as wayward as the beautiful hare that lives in our garden. We should shoot the hare as he – we think it is a he – eats the wild plants, which he regards as his larder, and why should he not?
The hare is big and beautiful. He has golden fur and glorious, upright ears. Unlike rabbits, hares do not hare off when they spot you spotting them. The hare stands up on his hind legs and looks at us. I would like to tame him, but you cannot tame a hare any more than you can tame a plant.
You can trim and prune and feed plants, but they will mostly do as they please. I once saw, in Japan, a man up a tree, trimming leaves with a tiny pair of nail scissors.
Also in Japan, I saw precious plants being contained in bamboo cages. “What terribly naughty plants they must be,” we said, “to have to be imprisoned.” These plants looked insane, and they probably were, having been locked up all their lives. If I were a plant in a cage, I’d curl up my roots and die, out of sheer spite.
Author Elena Ferrante has written, in her Guardian column, about her love of plants. She both loves her plants and fears for them. “I worry about late freezes as if they were earthquakes or tidal waves.”
She frets about her plants. “They are prisoners and yet they extend, twist, creep their way in, break the stone … they have in themselves a blind force that doesn’t fit with their cheerful colours, their pleasing scents. At the first opportunity, they manage to get back everything that was taken from them, dissolving the shapes that we have imposed by domesticating them.”
I think she would appreciate our hare, who cannot be domesticated. Country people would think we were mad for letting it leap. You have to find a balance, we think; we opt for beauty over bullets. Live and let live is my current philosophy. But if he eats my delphiniums, he’s jugged hare.
The irises are divisions from my Auckland garden. They cost about $10 a pop, so I was buggered if I was leaving them behind. The person who bought our Auckland house took out a 90-year-old, gracefully meandering garden path – whose curves were lined with said irises – to put in a concrete driveway. People have differing ideas about aesthetics. Some people look at an old garden path and see concrete; some people would look at our hare and see a pest; some people put plants in cages. There’s an old country saying: there’s nowt so queer as folk. We can all agree on that.
You have to find a balance, we think; we opt for beauty over bullets. Live and let live is my current philosophy.
The Auckland bearded irises bloom in their new home.