4. Arbeit, Kunst, Wissen, Natur

21.09.18. I am feeling calmer, and am beginning to feel a little more organized, but I still haven’t recovered my vision of what I can bring to herbology, nor what herbology can bring to me.

But today I get some time to spend in my garden. It’s a tiny, urban patio space that I have partly enclosed from the communal garden area behind my tenement flat. This is probably not what one is supposed to do. 

When I first came to Edinburgh from Lancashire, it was the garden that I missed most. In my previous home, I had built three gardens, laboriously digging out deep aggregate until I could construct and plant a small brick herb wheel, then a sandpit, rock garden, small lawn, pot garden, and eventually a parterre. I mixed ornamental and vegetable planting. The local horticultural society surprised me with a garden design award, but the real prize was those days when I sent my small children (who had grown with the garden) out with a bowl and an instruction to gather ingredients for a pot luck supper. 

I brought my enthusiasm to the city, but it quickly dissipated with the injustices of working thanklessly on a garden only to see it used incompatibly by neighbours and their dogs. The waiting list for allotments seemed huge. I wasn’t sure I could survive here that long, and I didn’t.

So when I returned last September, after a five year hiatus, I didn’t even make a pretense at communal gardening. I simply and selfishly took control of the strip immediately outside my windows. Mostly ornamental, and housing a large table, nonetheless it has yielded lavender, sage, mint, rosemary, thyme, kohl rabi, potatoes, raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, vine leaves, geranium, a heavy crop of plums, and even a handful of tomatoes. Yes, tomatoes grown outside in Scotland. Edvard Much wasn’t wrong: industrially induced climate change has long been real. It’s now both urgent and terrifying. 

Today I spend a few hours on my patio and begin to remember, as if opening a portal with a haptic key, that I am back here in the city because it is a means to an end: that the course at RBGE is my pathway out of the labyrinth; that I am dreaming of a future closer to the land, working as much with the earth as with people; that this is how I will find my place and purpose in my post-oil dotage; that I am a nomad seeking a new tribe; that surviving two more years in this city will be worth the prize.

I repeat this to myself like a mantra, hoping the words will conjure the reality. And I think of the postcard pinned in my campervan. It shows an artwork from a garden I once visited, by an artist whose name I cannot now recall. On a stone tablet, carved like commandments for a new age, are the words: 






Yes. That. That’s what I want the herbology course to bring me.

And yes, I’m aware I still haven’t formulated the trickier part of this equation…