Have you noticed how many passionate gardeners (myself included) are women whose children are grown? It is as if we transfer our nurturing tendencies from children to plants. I am sure I have read this theory elsewhere and although it is an interesting idea I am not sure that I buy it. I was not a natural earth mother and, passionately although I loved my children from babyhood, I got better at mothering as they grew older. I spent twenty years of my life climbing the corporate ladder so I didn't feel a void in my life when my children left home which could only be filled by propagating dogwoods and dividing snowdrops. Somehow the garden ran alongside a frantic work and family life, taking its place after the immediate and pressing demands of family but always a sanity saver, always giving me a place to breathe and dream and find myself again without the pinging of the blackberry and the incessant call of the mobile phone.
Up here now, with more time and the demands on me being overwhelmingly family ones, I find I am gardening differently. I am learning how to strike cuttings and grow things from seed and to understand what will and will not thrive for me. It takes particular attention.
For the last few days my elder daughter and her family have been staying. It has been lovely to spend much concentrated time with her and with my younger grandson, now two and a half. Last weekend we also had older grandson and his mum to stay and my son and daughter in law passing through to collect their dog and catch up with us all. Next weekend older son is coming with his partner and older grandson is coming back again. There is a lot of family around. I love it. I will also love the silence when they go but that is another story. But I have been thinking a lot about the way both plants and children need attention.
Two and a half year old Joseph loves to sit on your knee and play with his cars on the kitchen table. In a way you are not there, you are just a human chair, providing him with somewhere comfortable and warm and loving to sit. And in another way you are completely essential. He doesn't just want to be lifted up physically to the table. He wants the feel of you, he wants your engagement. He wants to tell you what he is doing: "Tractor going round. Bus going to London. Little dog get off bus. Little dog go to sleep now. Oh light come on! Sun coming out. Little dog get up for breakfast!" He wants you to be with him and he flourishes under the light and warmth of your attention to him. He is a sunny child, quick to laugh, quick to hug, happy too with his own company before coming back to the warmth of your lap for stories and games.
Older grandson Samuel is six now, whizzing out of the car for a hug and a kiss and bouncing with energy. "How are you my love?"
"I am six now."
Out in the field with Joseph and the dog he is in his element, throwing sticks, hiding balls, telling the dog what to do and looking after his little cousin with surprising ease. At one point he is running away from me to get the stick for the dog when he comes wheeling back and crashes into my legs for a hug.
"I love you Grandma."
I hug him back and smile at him "I love you too."
He is already running away again as he throws a cheeky grin over his shoulder at me. "I know you do."
I love the fact that he is so confident in my love, an older version of the two year old's happy confidence. And where does it all come from I wonder, this happy confidence? It is in so many ways attention, the readiness to give a child time and attention while also drawing boundaries for them so they know where they fit in and that they are loved but not all powerful.
It is that attention that reminds me of growing things. You need to water, you need to look, you need to take lids off propagators and mist your cuttings and close up the greenhouse at night. When your life is too busy for all these things you may be able to have a garden outside your windows but you can't raise the next generation of plants. And children, like plants, need the close attention, the rhythms and routines which could be boring were they not so necessary: mealtimes, playtimes, bathtimes, storytimes. Happy, willing, close attention.