‘A tree stands there, accumulating deadwood, mute and rigid as an obelisk, but secretly it seethes, it splits, sucks and stretches; it heaves up tons and hurls them out in a green, fringed fling. No person taps this free power; the dynamo in the tulip tree pumps out even more tulip tree, and it runs on rain and air.’   

ANNIE DILLARD

There aren't any Tulip trees in the garden at Meadow Well Connected, but nature is there in sprawling abundance. Brambles tumble and curl along the edges like barbed wire, nettles gather in stinging huddles and Couch Grass, Pigweed, Chickweed, Goosegrass, Dock and Ground Elder stitch tangled threads through the earth. They even find their way through slabs of concrete.

The garden stretches to 5 acres. It has lots of potential. And you hear this said a lot. I started work at Meadow Well Connected on the 10th March and talked to the new gardener, Andy about this potential. I wanted to rush in and help him and the garden volunteers pull up the weeds, cut down the grass, and work, work, work so that this potential could be realised. We’d have a wildflower meadow sown in autumn. And at the same time, underplant the orchard, like a forest garden. We’d finish the sensory garden and the pond so children could smell the lavender, rosemary and thyme, before doing a bit of pond dipping in the summer. The garden would be buzzing not just with bees and butterflies and birds, but also with people: community groups digging and tending to the vegetables they had planted or sitting around drinking cups of tea and nibbling on cake, admiring all that they had done.

As you might have guessed, I like to make things happen. I like to achieve things, especially creatively. I thought I could come in and help Andy and the volunteers manage this garden, control and subdue its unwieldy nature. How wrong was I! A week later, the dangerous COVID 19 virus was declared a global pandemic and all these plans made impossible. ‘Stay home, stay safe,’ the Government slogan. Out of a duty of care for staff, clients and volunteers, the Meadow Well Connected garden was closed to everyone except Andy, who goes in once a week to water the seedlings, grown by caring and determined volunteers. I am now working from home, writing to volunteers and thinking about the garden from afar. And the garden goes on growing without me.

All this time at home, staying safe, is a chance to reflect and consider. Time to think about what is important and how our actions impact on the people and the world around us. It is quite humbling. We have seen how humans being absent from the world has meant the natural environment is now thriving. In Italy, dolphins and wild boar have appeared in ports and on roads usually bustling with activity, there are blue skies in China in areas traditionally smothered with polluting black fog and closer to home, my husband spotted seals playing and frolicking in the Tyne during his Sunday morning run. It has also given us the opportunity to think carefully about society and what is important: the need to protect and care for the vulnerable and lonely and to make meaningful connections with family, friends and our local communities.

The Meadow Well Connected garden is now under the care and stewardship of Andy. He is the right person for the job. He is gentle, considered and careful. In our first week working together, I would walk behind him wanting to hurry him into a task. ‘What about that bit over there?’ ‘We need a list!’ ‘We need volunteers!’ ‘Let’s have a meeting and make cake!’ We both agreed that we wanted to approach the garden using permaculture, working with nature, but in practice I saw a lot of things that needed doing, rather than standing back to take note. Andy however, has walked round the garden and made a garden plan, based on what is already there. And there are many wonders and treasures to behold. Bright pink geraniums, purple, white and red anenomes and honeysuckle- creeping over a trellis. Seeds spouting in the greenhouse. And the bees have returned to their hive! These are all miracles to celebrate. We also discovered that some ‘weeds’ that gardeners often dread, like couch grass, are edible and can be ground into a powder and mixed with wheat to make bread. And ground elder can be used in a salad, or cooked like spinach. I was reminded that wildness doesn’t actually mean wilderness.

Geranium in our garden

I often wonder what it will be like once lockdown is over, once we are back to ‘normal’ again. I hope the valuable things we have learnt during this strange time will stay with us. I hope we will return to our lives more careful, considerate and respectful both of the natural world, and of the people around us.