I was reading a piece about Paul Barney founder of Edulis Plants in Gardens illustrated (May 2014) and was struck by a quote. He said “I can see clearly how the various phases of my life had been knitting together and building up to what I do now.”
It is a conclusion I share. I’ve been a plantswoman for the last 30 years – I’ve had a life journey accompanied by plants. Whilst raising 5 children, the garden offered a sanctuary from domestic chaos, a place for perspective and thought. As John Evelyn commented in 1666 “Gardening is a labour full of tranquility and satisfaction; natural and instructive, and as such contributes to the most serious contemplation, experience, health and longevity”
I have been (and remain) a teacher, an artist, a homeopath, a doula, a herbalist, a distiller, a grower, a forager and a carer of children. All of this work has become one single path incorporating the experiences learnt along the way. Half a century of seasons turning, observation of people, delight in new-found treasures, mineral postcards and stories recounted and remembered. It has been a life of accumulation of landscapes and small, precious keepsakes.
Experiencing open spaces, rich woodland, spongy peat, pebble cast beaches, heather coated hills, bare rock mountains, fields of roses, limestone pavements to gleefully hop across, all provide a connection to the landscape, an essential earthing. It is a far cry from the necessity to exercise for health, it is about connection and liberation. Finding a landscape to lose oneself in even for a brief moment. It offers an unsullied lens through which to view the world.
My life as a plantswoman and distiller has a seasonal rhythm with an annual return to Cyprus, the place I spent my 40s. It is ostensibly to gather and distil but that is only a part of the story. I go to the sea for the feel of salty turquoise water, to the top of the highest mountains for the view of rock roses (Cistus creticus) in full flower, into the orange groves for the heady scent of blossom. I enter the landscape, feel the heat, smell the dryness, marvel at the rich red soil and catch up with the people I love; from the Sufis of Lefke to all the friends in between. It is a journey into memory and sensation – food, scent, coffee, plants, coffee, people, coffee, heat, coffee, silence. Save for the wind whisking up the valley from the sea and always an empty coffee cup to tell fortunes.
Cyprus is a divided island but in amongst all the politics in both north and south, there are people creating guided walks through unspoilt landscapes, repopulating the wild with oak trees, protecting flora and fauna, engaging in environmental education, clearing up the mess and pushing for change – it is a slow, heartening, bi-communal revolution. These are people who understand and actively engage with the landscape – the ones whose interests transcend the boundaries of division, who can absorb the colours and texture of the landscape and value its extraordinary diversity.
Plants, landscape and environment are potent healers and companions. They offer us a route for change, a place of solace and exceptional benefits for both body and soul – we just need to get out there and take the time to Be…