This afternoon, having survived last week’s ‘brushing away’ of deadly mushrooms, I wander in to the back garden where birds twitter their discontent at me, for disturbing their daily forage for food. It’s chilly out, although the weather is glorious, with streaks of sunlight bursting through the graying blue sky. A welcome relief after the recent bouts of rain, and a much-needed opportunity to do some essential maintenance of the garden and finally get my hands dirty in the soggy soil.

But it’s Friday. And it’s been a long week.

I’m already weary of having to do things that need to be done and I’m tired too. Right now, gardening seems one job, one must-do chore too many on a ‘To Do’ list overflowing with urgent tasks: essential research for looming assignments, essay plans, necessary reading, books I would like to read, new pieces to be written, ideas to be formed, stories to be revised and edited, emails to send…

The list goes on and this is before I begin to contemplate housework that is long overdue; relaxing doesn’t even make it on to the list.
But with the increasingly changeable weather, I know deep down that it is now or never, and that tomorrow when I’m forced to stay indoors due to torrential rain, I will inevitably regret my decision.

So, as the British do in moments of exhaustion and crisis, I make a pot of tea. Outside, steaming mug in hand, I assess the situation. The recent neglect has taken hold, and the garden is growing out of control. Clumps of dandelions and weeds are bursting up through the compost I previously carpeted across the flowerbeds, to allow them the pretence of appearing neater and more orderly. The spiky, green leaved plants that during the summer were sturdy and upright have now lowered, drooping across the borders and looking more like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange that has been bashed on a hard surface and left sprawled within its wrapper. Pansies, that I’m embarrassed to say I bought back in September, are beginning to look as limp and washed-out as I feel.

There is so much to be done that it overwhelms me, and I simply don’t know where’s going to be the best place to begin.

Easily distracted by their croaky squawk, I watch pheasants grazing in the nearby field. And after I’ve hovered awhile sipping my gardener’s tea, I spring to action, and collect my gardening trug and tools from the garage; deciding the best way forward is to start with something low key, something easy.

Thoughts buzz around my head like a bee stuck in a room without windows, and there seems to be no possibility of turning the volume down anytime soon.

So, I strive to focus on the task in hand, beginning to trim the lemon balm that even now, fading into a state of decay, still offer a faint trace of the lemony freshness that was their former glory. From the cracks in the paving stones, I tug out the stubborn remains of over-sized daisies, which were one of those pesky culprits, who grew and spread uninvited during the summer.

Feeling more confident and finding my stride, I hack away at chunky brambles that trail dangerously across the top section of the garden, their thorns waiting to stick like Velcro to my hair, and clothes, viciously attaching to my skin. Next, I head over to tidy up the chocolate orange plants, intending to scoop each segment inwards to the centre and tie them there with a piece of string, as though I am re-wrapping the orange in its foil. A brilliant idea, although I soon see that my cunning plan has been easier to design than it’s going to be to implement, and discard all thoughts, yanking out bedraggled beige leaves instead. Relying on my own ‘weeding rule of thumb’ that if something can be pulled out of the ground without too much effort, then it was indeed supposed to be weeded.

Now, it’s time to have fun, to plant the pansies and really get my hands mucky.

First I weed the area where I’m going to plant, thinking as I work that with Christmas only weeks away and family coming to visit, I should make more of an effort in the borders outside the front of the house. Perhaps try and make them jolly and Christmassy, with rows of bright, colourful bedding plants. I file the thought away, adding the task to my mental ‘To Do’ list, and begin to dig.

Whether I’m planting bulbs or plants, it’s always a challenge. Because as much as I try to fight the urge, I can’t help but think that nothing is more pleasurable to the eye than a regimentally lined row of plants. Any attempts I endure to plant randomly or sprinkle bulbs within the ground in a sporadic fashion become traumatic. My little habit drives Steve mad, especially when I do the same with photographs on the wall, hanging pictures in straight lines, avoiding clusters or jaunty angles.

Today, I’m quite obviously not myself, as without prompting, I position the pansies within the wet soil without even measuring the distance between each plant, without even a hint of fore planning, but rather in a totally random, relaxed manner. Placing them wherever the moment takes me. This is great.

I stand back to peruse my haphazard creativity.

And see that this is going to be a problem.

There is no way on earth that I can leave the pansies in such disarray. This sort of chaotic mess is the stuff of nightmares. With a shifty glance behind me, I hastily haul them out of the ground. Line them up in a strict orderly fashion that creates a much-needed sense of comfort and calmness in me, and start to replant them.

End result: pansy-planting perfection.

By late afternoon, the sun has been overshadowed by an unwelcome return of the rain, and I decide, that that’s enough gardening for one day. I tidy away my tools, move the mound of weeds and brambles, and when I’m done pause to enjoy the soft mist of rain falling upon me, aware that those knots of tension that were taut when I begrudgingly ambled in to the garden earlier, have somehow relaxed and released their pressure.

My thoughts are no longer buzzing, the bee having finally escaped. Instead they have become more of an idle wander as I’ve pottered around the garden, inspiration and fresh ideas arriving out of nowhere. I’m even feeling more energized and uplifted than I have done in days.

The little I’ve achieved in the garden this afternoon is not enough to ebb the flow. By this time next week, a new army of weeds will have arrived, and countless other jobs will still need to be done. But if I take each week as it comes, garden in bite-sized manageable chunks and prevent myself from becoming overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, these weekly efforts, I know, will make a difference.