I don’t know exactly why my mother and father decided to have a summerhouse built at the very bottom of the farm the year after my grandmother died, using a part of the inheritance money. I suspect it was something to do with replacing the summerhouse my grandmother had had in her garden, where she took her afternoon snooze in the summer.
It also replaced the old henhouse my sister and I used as a play house which provided a place to cook when we had friends to stay on the farm over the summer. We had no spare beds, my parents had no experience of people sleeping on the floor or of “sleepovers”, so if more than one friend came to stay at once, we were sent down to the bottom field where any noise we made would not be heard up at the bungalow.
The only spare land was the boggy slope leading down to the spring which provided water to the whole farm. My father dug it out and levelled the base for the summerhouse and had a man with a machine dig out the clay from the centre of the oak glade to form a pond. The idea was this would be a place to raise runaway trout from the local fish farm and provide us with somewhere to swim during the hottest days of summer.
My mother planted daffodils on the bank and during spring we would walk down the fields to view them. In summer we might venture once or twice to listen to music on the wind-up gramophone, revise for school exams or show visitors when we weren’t quite sure how else to entertain them.
Grandchildren played house and shops there, but visits were few and limited to fair weather until I decided to make my simmering, book-driven interest in herbs a living reality. The land seemed to appreciate being worked again on a hand-to-soil level. Most plants thrived although local inhabitants did have a tendency to overwhelm some newcomers.
There was always a quiet insistence that while cultivated herb beds would be tolerated, the land was a field and would always return to its inherent state if left for more than a few weeks without attention.
The land has its own way with humans too. They find their thoughts stilling as they walk down the green path towards the Sanctuary gate. Once inside, even if they don’t understand why they have come, they need to sit and be. Somehow the land understands. A flower, a tree or a fallen piece of wood will provide their answer and a gift of peace.
No-one wants to leave. The walk up the two fields is steep, especially with a heavy back pack. They arrive at their cars with smiling faces and joy within their hearts.
Now the original Sanctuary is to be extended. My father has suggested we cultivate the piece of flat land between the ash tree and the hedge where the hay makers can’t reach with their enormous machines because of the sheltering slope.
The area of productive herb beds will double. I’m thinking of growing oats for oatstraw and milky oat tincture for the first time. I want to grow astralagus and eluethero and maybe some more rhodiola to provide a harvest of adaptogens in years to come. I might go mad and encourage rows of dandelions and burdock (in places they like to grow rather than in the artificial beds).
All things are possible. The land now needs people to tend the soil, to organise the compost and cherish the native plants. Hopefully this year there will be more motherwort, more calendula, a new lease of life for the Echinacea and huge piles of nettle seed gathered and dried over the summer.
It’s heady stuff, all these dreams. Let’s hope the weather co-operates and allows us to make all the dreams into reality. If you would like to be part of this, let me know.