I spent much of June in the garden putting in the summer plants. Mine is a small garden that is mostly in pots. When I started to garden many years ago, almost everything from the previous year would have been killed by frost in winter.

However, in recent years I’ve noticed almost everything survives, so instead of changing the full pot it’s now a case of renovating and adding, as well as pruning things to encourage new growth.

It is a major job and to begin with it, looks impossible. But there is little that I can think of that makes me happier than lifting little new plants, putting them in compost and creating a new pot that blends colours and scents. There is stock to be put near the door so that its night scent greets you when you go out to water in summer evenings. The curly leaves of the pelargoniums leave their gorgeous smell on your hands.

Even plants that are not known for their scents have their own particular smells in their roots. The Icelandic poppies self-seed – their orange and yellow faces popping up all over. Lovage, the very scent of summer reappears as if by magic from the sleep of the winter – as do the peonies.

Garden against time

Every year I think how lucky I am to have this garden. And now I can’t help think of all the lost gardens in the world, lost to those who must flee their homes, lost to the destruction of bombs – the gardens without gardeners to tend them.

A garden seems to me like the very antithesis of war. It is always about life, care and nurture. And crucially, in thinking about memoir, a garden inscribes memories – that is the sadness of enforced separation from a garden you have created and tended.

I recently went to Dublin to hear the writer Olivia Laing read from her new book The Garden Against Time. She quoted another gardener, Derek Jarman, who created his garden on the shingle beach in the lea of the nuclear power station at Dungeness – a less promising place could hardly be imagined. Jarman wrote of how, “The gardener digs outside of time, without past or future, beginning or end. Here is the Amen beyond prayer.”

Laing too has restored a garden and sees such a restoration as something to counter the current dystopian trend of the world. She says that gardens are the best of us and they are our way to counter the loud and destructive narratives of social media and of war.

In a time when we might give into despair at the world at its macro level, a garden allows us to do something active and positive at the micro. And there is nothing more micro than your hand in the soil encountering all the life there. Gardens defy simple dualisms – things are never simply good or bad. Aphids feed blue tits, frogs eat slugs, slugs help decomposition. We take off healthy shoots to make the plant stronger. It is a lesson in complexity and a shout against simplification.

This summer think of the memories you have of a garden or a gardener in your life. Think of all of the senses you engage in a garden and try to capture in your writing the smells, colours and sounds and the memories that come with them.

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