At long last after the ‘beast from the east’ blizzards of snow have finally decided they’ve had enough huffing and puffing and have graciously made way for some nourishing sunlight to show its face in blazing glory, I’ve been able to get back into my garden to have a really good trim and tidy up. Never mind that my gardening jeans are tighter than ever, never mind that I haven’t done any crawling around on my knees and bending over for months now, it still feels so good. Spring has finally sprung here, with all the plants ready to burst forth and change the landscape of the garden and the surrounding countryside from the dead and dreary wasteland of winter into a land full of fresh new shoots and green promise. It’s my favourite season and it never fails to fill me with wonder at the resilience of nature.
But I got to thinking and this nursery rhyme popped into my mind. (First recorded publication around 1744)
‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.’
And here is an illustration by Hilda Boswell from an old and tattered children’s book of mine (Hilda Boswell’s Treasury Of Nursery Rhymes) which prompted the memory. The silver bells which should be on the left have been digitally cut away, as opposed to with secateurs ;>), because as a girl I coloured them in with purple felt tip pen (not a good look, trust me). In any event, Mary seems to be considering what she is going to grow next in this version, which suits our purposes nicely.
If we put aside the many different historical interpretations of this rhyme, I think we can find a very useful one to apply to creativity. It seems to me Mary is being contrary because she is growing exactly what she wants to grow and not abiding by convention. She has her gardening tools, she has learnt her craft, but she is managing to cultivate whatever she imagines she wants. And if we look at the line ‘How does your garden grow?’ we can reframe it as how exactly does your garden grow? What do you do to make it flourish? So we can ask ourselves how do we help our creative ideas and work to flourish, using gardening as a metaphor for creativity.
Now I know two older ladies who strive to keep their respective gardens so trim, shaping and cutting shrubs back so savagely hard in their drive for order, that there is no room for the spontaneity that some unexpected ‘chaos’ might afford. There isn’t a weed of a spontaneous idea allowed to seed itself and bring forth something magical, and there is no opportunity for established plants to be allowed their fullest expression. The best gardens (at least for me), should be like the one in The Secret Garden novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. They should invite you in to examine and discover what may be hiding there, not have everything in pristine condition and be ostentatiously displayed in neat rows (that’s where our Mary could have a lesson to learn). It’s more a case of discovering what is happily developing and budding or sprouting forth like a well-honed creative work and conversely what is struggling or merely surviving which you could probably decide to let go of. You feed and water the creative concepts or works that are well rooted and ‘taking’ on new growth nicely , but you can have the flexibility within yourself to let go of what isn’t proving to be viable. And then there’s the wild card, being open to anything new that may float on a creative breeze and seed itself in your garden, while you allow it to simply be and see what develops. So to sum up, your creative garden doesn’t have to be like everyone else’s, you can grow in it what you want, you can try out new ideas, without checking over the fence to see what someone else is growing in theirs, and you can tend to what’s working in your creative life, let go of what isn’t, and always be open to new possibilities. That is what is so exciting about being a creative and leading a creative life.
So wishing you a rewarding creative Spring and happy cultivating :>)
(So there’s this seed from a sugar pine cone I have, which fell from the cone when I was cleaning…and I’m just wondering, like Mary (< insert some foot tapping and a pensive expression here>) whether to give it a whirl?)