Imbolc 2021

Across cultures and continents humans have broken up our time around the sun into different holidays and feasts for millenia. Some of them have survived and evolved into huge global holidays celebrated in ways our ancestors couldn’t dream of, and some of them have only the barest thread extending into the 21st century, 

Imbolc is a Gaelic traditional festival that marks the beginning of spring, in Ireland it is also the feast day of St Brigid. Taking place between winter solstice and spring solstice, which would be between 31st January and 2nd February, the festival was a celebration of the quickening of springtime and the lengthening of days. Fire and candles were often an important part of the rituals associated with it because they represented the return of the sun. 

It is easy to see the importance that this festival would have had to agriculture based communities, but just because we are removed from those working realities ourselves doesn’t mean that we won’t benefit from pausing to acknowledge what the day represents. January can be a long hard month for people, especially during lockdown, with cold grey skies and bitter mornings. Imbolc is a day that invites us to look for the signs of new life pushing through the darkness and prepare our earth and our lives for the year ahead. One ritual that does this has persisted into the present day, we call it ‘spring cleaning’. 

There is so much we can learn from the cultures we have become disconnected from. Cultures connected to the land understood that human beings are part of nature, not separate from it, and as such our lives go through cycles of change that are impacted by the natural environment. I’m acknowledging this festival and time of the year in simple ways 

Looking for snowdrops

Changing my bedsheets

Lighting a candle

Burning some incense

Sowing sweet peas

Taking those simple things and doing them consciously, helping them to become ritual, has already mentally helped me to process that the bleakness of January is behind me. Instead of expecting my work to be at summer levels of abundance, I’m reminding myself that now is a time for planning and preparation. 

Light and life are coming.

Nigella Christmas

This year I’m focussing on sharing seeds and so for the first time I had a nigella Christmas. I saved nigella seeds from some flowers that my mum grew for me back in May, origami-ed some brown paper envelopes and sent them out to the women in my family. 

My family live across the UK in Manchester, Cornwall, London, Yorkshire and Isle of Wight so I find something lovely in the idea of us all growing flowers from the same plant. Some of the women that I’m related to (by blood and marriage) don’t know each other, and one of them I have a difficult relationship with, so me sending these seeds out into the world is a little bit of hope. I hope that they’ll plant them and grow them, and even better if they themselves saved the seed and shared it on, but if not then I’ve made my peace with the fact some of them will stay in a dark drawer somewhere. 

Nigella, or Love in a Mist is a self seeding flower that is related to the black cumin Nigella flower, but is poisonous. It’s very good at self seeding so you don’t normally need to save the seed for next year. In the language of flowers it means openness to love. you puzzle me and perplexity. This felt like a good place to begin actively sharing more seeds, and the flower is so easy to grow that I’m hoping even the people receiving them who aren’t normally green thumbed will have some success. 

This isn’t something I’ve done before, but little things fell in place that made me want to give this gift. I think about the fact that when my grandma was pregnant with my mum, the foetus that was her contained the ovary that became me. This plant my mum has given me, it’s seeds are being sent off across the country and maybe my cousin’s little girl (that I haven’t met yet because of Covid) will touch the blue flowers of the sister plant that my daughter will point at. My grandparents that I can’t see because they are vulnerable people, will be able to look at the flowers and know that we have some, exactly the same, growing in our garden. 

Hopefully we can grow them and be reminded of our connection to each other.

Samhain Resolutions

Since I was a child I’ve been drawn to Pagan traditions and ways of viewing the world. The Wheel of the Year introduces ideas of cyclic change, with space for new life, growth, harvest and death. Samhain on the 1st November is considered by a lot of Pagans to be the start of a new year.

New Years for me is a time for reflection and goal setting for a new start. As I’ve said before, one of the brilliant things about gardening is having time and space to reflect and learn from the previous years’ growing.

November feels like a perfect time for this.

This November I began a new year for my garden. I cleared out all of the plants that weren’t producing, tidied up the beds and have started creating a blank canvas for myself. Drawing a line under and moving on feels freeing. 

I love New Year’s resolutions, I know they’re not everyone’s cup of tea but they really appeal to me. My Samhain gardening resolutions are:

Seed sharing

Gifting plants

Grow in new spaces

These three goals are going to guide my gardening efforts.

Sometimes I find it hard to engage with the garden in winter, even when I still have lots of vegetables growing. The ground is messy and sludgy from leaves and I just don’t feel as motivated to be in there. Having a long period of resting and planning means that I feel a lot less pressure with the space which has weirdly meant I’m in there more.

Before light there is darkness, I’m making the most of this embryonic state to reflect on what I learnt last year and to plan

When things are a bit harder than usual

It has been a bad week. Normally I love sharing pictures of my garden but I’ve been struggling with other areas of my life and I didn’t feel like I had the time to go outside and look after my plants. When I did go outside, I found that a lot of the containers I had used for potting had flooded and the plants inside were struggling. The pots came with the house and I had been in such a rush to get stuff in that I hadn’t taken the time to make sure they had good drainage. Gardening is an aid for my mental health, but this week it felt like another pressure on it.

My tomatoes which had been doing so well now looked awful and so instead of being somewhere that rejuvenated me and made me feel better, my garden now was another area of life that was struggling. I didn’t want to be outside and I didn’t feel like I had the energy to sort it out.

Sometimes you put something out there and it doesn’t work out. Sometimes through your own carelessness, something you hadn’t even been aware of circles round and sets you back. Or you weren’t as good as you thought you were and you have to deal with the realities of your own incompetence. It can’t be summer all of the time. Life is always teaching you, and if you don’t pick the lessons up fast enough there can be consequences. Some people are shielded from these more than others, I personally have a lot of privillege compared to most people in the world and I’m trying to remember that right now while I’m finding things a bit harder to deal with than usual.

I’ve been working on a community gardening project with some neighbours that formed out of a neighbourhood whatsapp group. We’ve been putting raised beds into a church. The person who has been leading on this asked yesterday if any of us could come with him to meet the group that tends the church grounds. I knew this would be a bit tense because we had accidentally used their compost that they had been working on for years, so I decided to go with him so he wouldn’t have to bear the brunt of this by himself. It was the best thing I could have done. We spoke with the group who come in once a month to tend the grounds, and one of them was very angry at us, but we managed to resolve a lot of the tension. I met a lady called Yvonne who is a member of the church and also has her own allotment nearby. She was lovely and really into what we had done so far. She showed us pictures of her allotment and all of the things she liked to grow. In particular sprawling pumpkins and pots of bamboo, because they reminded her of Jamaica. I left the church feeling more fortified, even though we were laid into a bit, and much more able to get back on with my own garden. I am always learning from my garden and the people that this interest connects me to. People from all over the world, a lot of them with a much deeper understanding than myself of the land and of how things work. There are so many patterns you see played out in a garden setting that play out in a larger form on life.

Guess I need to get off my laptop, give myself a nudge and get my hands back in the ground again.