Going To Pot

Nature is healing

Going To Pot

It's not about marijuana, sorry. I'll save that for another time.

It's about the garden.

See, we have these potted plants on the deck. There's herbs, some plants some friends gave us, a plant with a horrifically problematic name now known as a Thai lime, a non-Thai lime, a yellow flower whose name perpetually escapes me, and some pots of dirt.

(The dirt contains bulbs, which may or may not flower at some point in the future.)

Gerberas! That's the name of the flower. When we got them, they looked lovely. We took good care of them, and the rest of the plants, and they rewarded us with many healthy flowers. For about two weeks. Then we started to forget to water them. Abruptly noticing the yellowing, drooping leaves and dying flowers, I'd drench the plant. This made things worse. Meanwhile, the plants kindly gifted by our friends live on the deck in the same temporary pots they arrived in. I've been meaning to put them in the garden for six months. Unfortunately, that hasn't been possible because for the last 18 months or so the garden has been an impenetrable jungle. I'm barely exaggerating: I recently bought a machete to help deal with it.

In my defence, the yard is both large and challenging. When we bought the house it had a well-kept vegetable garden, several fruit trees, and an expanse of hedges that wouldn't look out of place in the gardens of Versailles. The former owners liked hedges so much that some of the large camellia hedges have smaller hedges, under which are lesser hedges made of a kind of hedge-grass. Under these, I suspect, will be moss hedges, and so on.

Within a few months of moving in, the lawns approximated meadows, the vegetable garden was overrun, the fruit trees – perhaps aware of their fate – appeared to be trying desperately to leave the premises, and the hedges were performing the topiary equivalent of free-form jazz. The seedlings and bulbs and Little Gardens we planted got eaten by the weeds and an alarmingly large army of slugs and snails that, it turned out, lived in the hedges. I went out once after dark to pick some mint and found them crawling over the walls and plants. There were, once more without exaggerating, thousands of them. When my family visited from Australia and tried to make progress through a former gate, inhibited by a hedge comprised entirely of Triffids, I made embarrassed apologies for the state of the place. "Oh, no, it's nice!" said my sister-in-law. "It's like The Secret Garden."

As the yard grew wilder, so did any hope of improving it. The base state was so unkempt that I felt like I couldn't tackle any one aspect of it, and so it fell further and further behind where I wanted it to be.

Despite this, I've finally made some progress in the yard. It started by spending a few minutes of my breaks poking at the worst weed infestations, and escalated to swapping some of my Scrolling Time to spending early mornings outside, swatting at plants and digging things. In the same spirit of pointing out obvious things that motivates this newsletter and all of the self-help genre: it's nice to get outside during the day, even if it's raining.

Things reached a new level when I realised I owned the house and could kill any hedge I wanted. I've been at it for a month or two now, even hiring a mulching machine that allowed me to feed the hedges to the rest of the garden. The ones that didn't mulch I set on fire. When my dad came to stay a couple of weeks ago we blitzed the whole place with loppers, chainsaws and trimmers, letting the surviving hedges off with a warning.

Sure, the garden had gone to pot, and it was a lot to deal with, but – once I found the right approach – all that was fixable. Now that the garden fundamentals are in place and I've finally caught up with all the overgrowth, it feels like we might have space for some of the other things we've been wanting to plant.

There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler's mind.

It's been a while since I last emailed and I am increasingly conscious of the gap. When I did a reader poll some time ago, people told me to take my time with newsletters, and I do, but consistency remains the elusive goal. It's tricky to judge how much of my personal life to bring into what is mostly a personal development + comedy newsletter but it's inevitably a lot. The fact is, our little family had more bereavement – my wife Louise's much-loved nana Ella passed away, and a week later so did our much-adored tabby cat, Darcy. We like to think he went to keep her company.

In events' wake, we decided not to have any pets for a while.

Last Monday, we were dropping Leo off at preschool when I spotted a tiny black shadow on the tight shoulder of the road. I pulled over and went back to check what it was, almost getting smoked by a car in the process.

I found this.

A small, black, slightly frightened-looking kitten.

Of course, we'd decided not to have any more pets. Our resolve to stay the course lasted about two days. He's since had a vet check-up (all's well) and his name is Pango. As I write, my lap looks like this:

A tiny black fluffy kitten on a lap with a laptop behind it.

The cat distribution mechanism, something I was previously unaware of, has done its work. The cosmic ballet goes on. Oh! And speaking of the cosmic ballet:

When I heard about a solar storm predicted to cause aurora visible throughout the whole of New Zealand I steeled myself for disappointment. Surely it'd fizzle out, like the other times I'd chased aurora. But no. Somehow, we got Aurora Australis, at this time of year, at this time of day, in this part of the country. My brother-in-law and I drove out to his parents' farm with my ancient, entry-level DSLR, and I took pictures I've been obsessing over ever since. Despite attempts, it's impossible to do the aurora justice. While the colours are less intense than they appear in photos, no picture (or prose) can convey their sheer scale and majesty. The Lights are like a fracture in the sky, and it is easy to see why people have long attributed them to gods.

If you're looking for a self-improvement moral, I suppose it's that nature is healing – whether it comes in the form of gardens, or cats, or vast swathes of radioactive debris flung across space by a pitiless star. From my own experience, I can think of nothing better to lift your spirits than witnessing a once-in-a-century cosmic event. Do try it.