THE PASSION FLOWER by Harry McAvinchey

passion flower

Gardening can be a great meditation and a solace for the mind. I didn’t always think like that of course. Who can find time to meditate when they are young, feckless and roaring or when they are breaking through the clatter and mayhem involved in the   raising of  a young family?

Meditation? Thoughtful contemplation? Flying Yogis?

I was never one for the Maharishi and his devotees of Transcendental Meditation. Sure, it fascinated me that the Beatles fell under his spell and even chased him all the way to India, looking,hoping,  searching for some peace in a world gone crazy in front of their horrified eyes. Who needed that level  of fame and  everyday scrutiny? It’s no wonder they sought a little peace and quiet , even though the acerbic Lennon soon fell out of the Maharishi’s grace after copping the Sexy Sadie eyeing up the gamine Mia Farrow in a lustful manner. George Harrison was the one who needed the consolation  and comfort most and  who became the “Beatle  Gardener” in the end. Apparently, it brought him the peace that being in the eye of the Beatle- Hurricane robbed him of. I can see the logic in that.

There was a time when  I thought that being a gardener would be the perfect job. Complete freedom, fresh air and all that.  It’s one of life’s dreams. I felt like that until I worked with a commercial gardener for three months and found that the reality was one of endless  toil and hard , harrowing  graft in all weathers.  I readjusted my ideas double-quick. The romance fairly runs away when the bones are damp and  aching, the back is sore and muscles ripped, the rain is dripping off your nose and your jeans are sticking to your legs. Your arse in a puddle. You might be forty miles from home too and the comfort of your own home..

Tending your own garden, in your own time and at your own pace, is a different thing entirely though. For one thing ,besides being good exercise, it allows time to ponder , chew over things and clear the head of all that everyday clutter.Sometimes when you are very lucky, a brand new idea can pop into that deserted mind  like a freshly -minted  sun , shining incandescently. I’ve worked and futtered with my own garden for some thirty years now. I’ve tried a few things over the years. For many years I had a couple of  homemade compost bins running at the bottom of my garden, feeding the soil with this rich black wormcast from all the vegetable waste. Wonderful earthy stuff that I dug out every Autumn and wheeled around the beds. Black, tactile gold .

I made some mistakes too, of course. All gardeners do .We all make this thing up as we go along and usually take credit for things that grow despite our best efforts to kill them. For the most part, the mistakes outweigh the successes  but we struggle on. My biggest faux pas was probably the planting of   Castlewellan  Gold trees as a hedge. They were an unknown quantity some thirty years ago but they soon showed their true Triffid-like qualities when they proceeded to colonise gardens up and down the land. They were surreptitious at first. It took them about three years  before leaping into vibrant life.At first there was a silent cheer that all these little trees were growing so well and knitting themselves together into a solid barrier against the elements. You see , in gardening, many plants can be a disappointment or can simply die in front of your eyes . These beauties  just heaved for the heavens like the most virile things in all creation.I was elated at first, in my naivety. Then it all changed. In a few years they had girded their loins, took stock of the situation and set out on the crusade that  was obviously their only  evolutionary agenda . They reached  for the skies at a rate of four feet every annum.Not just upwards either . They spread their leafy blessings laterally too. They pushed their very essence across the lawn.A Hitler invading Russia.  Left to their own devices , my home would have been like the Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Impenetrable …surrounded by a towering, leafy  edifice blocking out all light.

I struggled manfully as the years rolled by, tackling this invader twice every summer with an array of steadily rising ladders, loppers and mechanical hedge-cutters .Every coming summer became a dread .That awful unending chore hanging like Damocles’ sword over the best time of the year. i finally admitted defeat and took a chainsaw to the lot of them as they towered some thirteen feet and still- growing.

 In another few years my best efforts would have been as nothing as I slid into the gloom of dotage. I saw that as a victory as  unfiltered sunlight once again spilled  through  my windows for the first time in years. There were  other defeats.There  were my tomatoes. What tomatoes? I never got to see one ! Again , the greenfly won that battle and  the infestation was so creepy that I gave up in despair My flesh crawled every time I popped my head into that little home-made shed that I’d made from the old windows…the withered plants bending under the weight of that green, chomping wildlife..

Somehow though, the small triumphs outweigh the defeats. Some three years ago, while visiting my daughter and her partner in their old flat in Liverpool,  I was taken by the beautiful flowers clinging vine-like to the walls of the house. As we sat sipping some wine in the little forecourt outside, I talked to one of the other residents about this wonderful flower.  It was such an exotic otherworldly bloom. My enthusiasm made such an impression that later that evening he handed me a a little piece of scrunched up silver-foil  containing  one of the fruits from  the plant.

I hadn’t much hope that I could grow anything from the  seeds within the fruit but  when I returned home I planted the lot in a small pot inside on the kitchen windowsill and forgot about it for a week or two until I  noticed the first green shoots. When these got a little bigger , I hardened them off outside as the weather improved and finally planted them out in a large pot in the corner of the decking at the side of the house where they’ve struggled through several winters .This summer  my wife popped her head around the door and  informed me that we had our first bloom. Like expectant  parents we marvelled at what we had grown. We had our first Passion Flower and several of its brothers and sisters were readying themselves to unfold and prostrate themselves for the sun.When viewed in abstraction, they are like the most exotically formed  sculpture. A meditation within themselves.

They say that the Passion Flower has evolved specifically to partner up with the tiny hummingbirds.These are their main pollinators, perfectly evolved to accommodate the unique structure of the flower. Otherwise  a very large bee might do, such as a bumble or a carpenter bee.  These  new  Irish flowers of mine will have to make do with my humble  little  honeybees. They couldn’t be in better company. Mine are now a cross between the little Buckfast bee, itself a cross, and the native Irish black bee. Let the dance begin.

The honeybees now live  in that corner where the compost bins originally stood. Both having fertilised  the garden in their  own differing ways .

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