You write because you have an idea in your mind that feels so genuine, so important, so true. And yet, by the time this idea passes through the different filters of your mind, and into your hand, and onto the page or computer screen — it becomes distorted, and it’s been diminished. The writing you end up with is an approximation, if you’re lucky, of whatever it was you really wanted to say.
– Author Khaled Hosseini, “How to Write,” the Atlantic
I’m missing my friend. My dear friend who died over a year ago. And I have a gap, the kind of gap that a friend occupies and leaves.
She is in my thoughts right now as I sit at the kitchen table, cleared and scrubbed ready to work on the re-design of her garden. To be asked to re-design the garden is flattering, generous and kind. It includes me. Frankly it is also painful. Everywhere I look I see her. I see her in the past. I didn’t expect to not see her in my future.
Looking in the now I see her husband floundering in grief, unsure of his new space in the world without her. Her life partner has reached out to a friend. To help him find a new life in the garden.
The task is hauntingly dauntingly beautiful. I step outside of my immediate emotions, listen to the stories, the halting words, the unfinished sentences and take snippets and ideas with me to the blank sheet of paper that will be a new garden. Waiting for the first lines and ideas to emerge from the shaky pencil I tentatively map the “as is” layout, the basics, the garden raw and unadorned. Slowly I sketch the outlines, I work out the ratios and map the key points. I look away from the paper and rough lines and see the issues of the garden – long and narrow, an incline to the bottom. overgrown and too many trees, a path that follows the exact line of the fence. I see the bigger problems too – the loss of a loved one, the need to reclaim a space and yet acknowledge the passing and of memories.
I close my eyes and imagine the new, the place, the people, the plants, and I struggle. I can’t see into the future anymore than the next person. I can only see the now. I can only draw the present.
More talk. More measuring. More photos. More staring out – eyes wandering from brick wall to fence post and back again. My eyes need a rest from the garden and the memories it has and I look over the rooftops and out to sea. Anywhere to not look at the garden. Looking at the plants, I know the stories behind the plants in pots. I know and see the gardener.
I keep looking and all I see is my friend. My beautiful friend, She’s there in my mind’s eye. The smile, the love and the laughter. She was the gardener, the designer, author, activist and presenter. And so much more. A friend. And what am I? I’m the pupil. The wannabe. The wannabe gardener, designer, author. Things so impossibly precious to me and there she was with all the experience under her wellies. I can’t step into her metaphorical wellies, I don’t want to and besides she took a much bigger boot size!
It’s a privilege to re-design something so special. Her project. A garden that once had plans and grand designs, a shared dream. And as friends we shared that dream too.And now we have to recreate, re-fashion and re-dream. To dream of new dreams.
As the garden plan takes shape there are moments of excitement in the new and tantalising glimpses of the future garden. The initial ideas are well received. I can see the layout and share my thinking. But the ideas focus on the physical layout – the place and the space if you will. The greatest challenges are still around the corner. To find not just the plants to fill the gaps but to fill the loss. There will come a time when we rip out some of the old, dig up the unwanted and build the new. And I wonder will there be tears or cheers? That won’t be for a while yet, but by being included in the re-design of the garden I can grieve. And I can dream.
To a friend and gardener
I wrote this article last year, but bottled it when it came to clicking on the publish button. Here goes…..