My Garden

Olive Hanna

I live in my garden,
and my garden lives in me.

When I was young, my mother said of me, “I don’t know what to do with Olive. She is like many pieces of wool, not enough in any piece to knit anything.” I could not have described myself better. Being good at many things but not great at any perhaps served me best. I see my life as a gift to share: a tapestry of love for people and nature woven by time in a quiet and joyful heart, forever open to change.

Growing up in Ireland, at no time did I think of myself as a gardener. However, I do remember a single pink rose bush, near the blue front door of our red brick railway house. Every year without fail, it managed to produce a cascade of fragrant pink roses. Their heavenly scent floated on the air into my young heart as I entered and left our home.

I don’t ever remember having a conversation with my mother or father about what roses or any flowers in our garden needed in order to stay healthy and grow. It was more a case of observing what was done.

When our local bakery came once a week to deliver bread, the horse-drawn cart would stop first in the entryway between the two front rows of red brick houses built by The Great Northern Railway Ireland for employees like my father. It was a good spot for the horse to rest and for my mother with the women in our area to easily come through their backyard gates to buy. Once the cart doors closed on the divine smell of freshly baked cakes and bread and all sales were completed, the horse and cart slowly moved up the entryway to the next stop.

It was not unusual then, once the horse had moved on, to find dung left on the ground. As a child I thought it very normal to see my mother hastily enter our backyard and, within minutes, return with a bucket and shovel to pick up the precious droppings. In no time at all, the bucket was emptied at the base of the rose bush by the front door. I supposed as a child, the world was not a complicated place so no questions were asked by me; and the rose bush thrived.

Reflecting on that early childhood, I remember the joy of just being outdoors in nature, the long sunny days when school was out, sliding with friends on pieces of cardboard down the banks of the hill separating the Drogheda Railway Station on one side and the neatly arranged rows of red brick houses on the other. The tall lush summer grass and devils bread easily gave way to each cardboard rider until the ground was flat and the cardboard green and shiny. The scent of freshly bruised grass wrapped itself around us at the bottom of the hill where we got up again to make another climb and ride, the energy for which was boundless.

I remember our family trips to the seaside, jumping over salty waves in the warm sunshine or searching for seashells along the strandline. In time, hunger forced us to the shore for tea made on an open fire, and sandwiches eaten with great relish on the soft, warm sand. Sun and sandwiches and my mother’s freshly made tea tasted all the more delicious as we sat together watching the waves endlessly racing towards us in what felt like eternal bliss. Until, weary and content, by train on serpentine tracks, we headed back home to fall fast asleep.

Yet, when it comes to my love and awe of nature there is another memory more magical and eternally fresh in my mind: at the age of seven, walking through the woods with my father at a nearby private estate. As locals, we knew we were welcome to walk the woodlands surrounding the property, a favourite walk of my father’s. I still remember the sunlight fingering the treetops in search of space between the leaves to reach beneath the canopy to the woodland floor where the small trees grew and flowers bloomed.

On one such walk, noticing my gloveless hands were cold, my father took a single shiny leaf, placed it on top of his newly lit pipe and after a few puffs, placed the warm leaf between my little hands. I smiled, looked up at his face and, in that moment, the connection was made.

The woods, the tall trees and fingering sunlight, the warm leaf, the love and the feeling of being loved – a soft magic moved inside me, connecting me to all that was around. To all inside me.

I am still moved when I think about that moment.

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