The Tree Babies

closeup of apple blossoms

Without wishing to jinx things, we have found a house we want to buy, and someone who wants to buy ours. As we chew through a mountain of paperwork (no move date yet; surveyors reports due; nothing set in stone…) we are mentally preparing for the eventuality that possibly maybe hopefully we will be moved at some point towards the end of the summer.

(Possibly, maybe, hopefully.)

While it is something we have planned very carefully together – and undoubtedly it is a very positive and exciting step – can I admit that it’s also *a lot* to be leaving our home as well? That, mixed in with the excitement of planning a new chapter together, I feel a wave of fear and uncertainty?

I love this beautiful red brick shelter where we live.

This is where Mark’s boys grew up; where I finished my doctoral thesis; where countless art projects and personal projects were born. This is where we learned to make our own cheese and beer; damson jam; sourdough bread. This house has held a lot of laughter, a lot of loving, and a great many sensational meals (ahem). It’s the house in which both Mark and I agree we *really* learnt to cook, as we discovered food is something that we love and can share.

This red brick house on its wide, wild plot of land in the town where I found and fell in love with bricks has cradled me on many sad quiet mornings of arthritis pain; through dark days of depression; through some tricky years of trying to resolve whether or not I would ever have any children of my own. It has been an amazing place of refuge on days during which the world felt too loud, too big, too much.

It’s also been a place of deep joy; the place in which a thousand fruitcakes have been baked, and where I’ve laughed some of the greatest belly laughs of my life.

the fruitcake swatch from the KNITSONIK stranded colourwork sourcebook
The fruitcake swatch – the biggest one in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook and ready for me whenever I decide I need to make a fruitcake inspired hat/skirt/dress/sweater

Fifteen years ago, in a gesture that has always struck me as the most supportive thing anyone has ever done for my creative practice, Mark commissioned a builder to convert the back of the garage into a studio so I would have somewhere to work. The KNITSONIK books were written there under the shade of the mulberry tree we planted together; the KNITSONIK podcasts were recorded there; as were all the classes for the KNITSONIK school. If you have enjoyed anything I’ve made in the last ten years, this is where I made it.

My little studio - the small red brick back of the garage - now my studio.
The back of the garage: since 2008, my studio.

As the months roll on and the move grows more imminent, (possibly, maybe, hopefully) I realise how many things we’ve started in the garden here, too. The seeds for the Plants chapter in the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook were all sown here.

The walnut tree that Mark bought home in a carrier bag “on dwarf rootstock” (lies) in 2007/2008 has bloomed into the most majestic of trees. We’ve had only five walnuts from it the whole time we’ve been here, but we’ve also had squirrels and jays in the garden, and there are two collared doves who love to perch in it and watch us shyly from its branches; it seems to do for the birds what our house does for us. We won’t be bringing this to our new home as it’s too voracious and puts out chemicals that stop other trees from growing… but I’ve taken lots of photos for posterity.

In the garden, under the walnut tree, holding the swatch it inspired in 2014.
Me in the garden in 2014, under the walnut tree, holding the swatch it inspired.

In this photo I hold the Walnut-tree-inspired-swatch that forms the basis for my discussion on trial and error while swatching colourwork in the Sourcebook; behind me is the tree itself. Look what nine years have done!

The mighty walnut tree towering above the chickens' pen
The mighty walnut tree towering above the chickens’ pen.

Also – come look at the tiny stick of a mulberry tree outside my studio window, from 2008…

Looking out of my studio window in 2008
The mulberry tree in 2008 (just a stick in the ground, really; you can barely see it just to the left of the central line down the middle of the window panes.

…this is how it looked in 2018, when I drew on it for inspiration for my Knitted Postcard pattern in the Playbook

Me peeping out from between the leaves of the mulberry tree while holding the knitted postcard it inspired.
Me peeping out from between the leaves of the mulberry tree while holding the knitted postcard it inspired.
knitted postcard back: mulberry tree huge this year: loads of fruit + a lush big crown of leaves.
Knitted postcard back: mulberry tree huge this year: loads of fruit + a lush big crown of leaves.

…and this year, now…

The mulberry tree outside my studio - towering over it.
The mulberry tree outside my studio – towering over it.

…it’s amazing how big a tree can grow in fifteen years!

Closeup of the buds on the mulberry tree this year, and how big and vibrant they look, and how ready to burst forth with the spring.
Closeup of the buds on the mulberry tree this year, and how big and vibrant they look, and how ready to burst forth with the spring.

The damson tree we planted in 2007 after tasting damson jam and deciding we needed to have it always is a beautiful thing; I want to bring Baby Damsons with us when we move.

more extravagant Damson blossoms

And the apple tree – which had its one precious day of scent and blossoming on Sunday, and many of its blooms dashed away by violent hail today – was here long before us, and I hope can come with us in some form as well. I love this apple tree and the ciders and cakes and crumbles we’ve made from its fruit.

The apple tree in full and beautiful blossom.
The apple tree in full and beautiful blossom.

The plants have given us so much. And in amongst their roots and flowers, their blossoms and petals, their scents and flavours, I feel we also planted many dreams. They shelter us, soak up the sound waves, create an oasis, peace and paradise. I am a flawed imperfect gardener but the garden is a place for vulnerable learning; a place to interface with the other beings with whom we share this world. A place to try and fail, to feel something beautiful and hopeful in these times of climate crisis and anxiety: a place to make no-mow areas and plant wildflower patches; to push back against the neighbour who wants hedgerows cut back at the height of the nesting season.

In amongst our plants we have watched and learned how sparrows raise their babies; how robins defend a territory; how blackbirds especially like to sing right after rain. Here I’ve heard bats through my bat detector on mellow summer nights and learnt to humbly accept that there must be mosquitoes with their evil bites – for those bats. Here I’ve learnt that arums love shade; that ramsons will grow under trees; that on the most broken, painful or shitty of days, the good smell of the mud will heal all. Here I’ve learnt to tug root systems apart without ripping them. Gathered meadowsweet for its natural salicylic acid (aspirin) and madder for its precious red roots.

So here is the nursery for the baby plants – the plants we are bringing with us.
They, perhaps more than anything else, are the home we need to hang onto; the seeds to plant, wherever we next land.

Felix's little nursery of baby plants - they are arranged on the BBQ planter I salvaged and repainted during Lockdown 2020.
Felix’s little nursery of baby plants – they are arranged on the BBQ planter I salvaged and repainted during Lockdown 2020.

This is one collection of plants; I am spending a lot of time on Sundays carefully transplanting some of the best babies into pots – things that I can conceive will be tossed out as weeds by the successive resident. Meadowsweet grown from wild seeds; cuckoo-pint (Lords & Ladies); feverfew; ramsons; madder; forget-me-nots (Mark’s favourite)… and then my attempts at baby trees: apple, damson, mulberry.

And there has been one more humbling lesson for this gardener and it is this: those shiny ball things that you buy online (I believe they are called “air planters”) and strap onto branches, in order to make baby trees? Well. So I carefully cut little rings in some of the end branches of each of the trees I want to bring with us, covered the cut in rooting powder, and pressed my best home-made compost around it, all as instructed. The internet assured me that in a couple of weeks a root system would be established in the ball, enabling me to cut it away and voila – new baby tree.
The internet has not met our squirrels.

Air planters bitten, ripped open and chucked onto the floor by squirrels.
Air planters bitten, ripped open and chucked onto the floor by squirrels.

Of the full ten air pods carefully arranged around the garden, there are but three left: all ripped open, bitten and destroyed. I found all the broken branches and am trying out a different propagation method – hopefully one that does not attract the attentions of our fluffy-tailed friends. But I will even miss them – the wee shites – and their bird-table hogging ways; their brutally efficient annual walnut tax; the random things I find in the garden that could only have been planted by them. Hazelnuts, acorns, neatly sequestered into plant pots and borders by their busy little paws.

Before you ask, yes – the hens are coming too (possibly, maybe, hopefully) if all goes to plan, as well as my cherished wormery. Sadly though, Mark has put his foot down and said I’m not allowed to bring the rotting wood pile (which I did propose we should do).

Please send love and healing roots vibes to my cuttings!

Felix's collection of fruit tree cuttings.
Felix’s collection of fruit tree cuttings.

Until then, with gratitude for The Baby Trees.

8 thoughts on “The Tree Babies

  1. Such a fantastic read. I learned a bit more about your life, your thoughts, feelings, garden and it’s inhabitants. I am so happy for you and Mark that you finally found somewhere that you want to buy. Your joy and excitement jumps through your writing. I am so very happy for you so much that I felt guilty for the single teardrop that fell from my left eye! Knowing that you will no longer be a 20 minutes drive away, just in case, caused me a small amount of anxiety and now I am laughing, just a little bit at being a silly moo. You deserve iff TV beautiful friend . Bring it on, possibly,maybe hopefully!
    Love and hugs
    Dee x

    1. Ah Dee, you’re so lovely! Thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my ramblings! I share your sadness that we will no longer be just a twenty minute drive apart but, on the other hand, you’ll have a super place to stay by the sea from time to time! Thanks so much for your kind words and positive thoughts, they mean a lot. It still all might go wrong… so I’m trying to to get too carried away but it is exciting, nevertheless!

  2. Keeping everything crossed for your new home and the big move ahead (hopefully)! This was a lovely post – so hard to leave a garden entwined into your lives. All your work and care and creativity has made a beautiful place and I’m so glad you can take some of it with you.

  3. “The internet has not met our squirrels”

    I love your writing and am excited to start new adventures and a new garden by the sea with you ♥️

    ..and a new woodpile

  4. I just love to read your posts. They are so lovely and they make me feel, each time. Thank you

  5. Wow it’s a big change you’re planning to make and I salute you! No doubt it will be very emotional leaving your home with all its memories, and especially the living things you’ll have to leave behind. I’m glad you’re going to take some of your beloved plants, and your delightful animals with you. But how exciting to set up the next phase of your life in the new place! I look forward to see how that inspires your creativity. I’ve lived in my house for 30 years now – 13 years with my late husband – and I cannot imagine having to move out, though of course that’s always a possibility as one gets older. I hope not, but who knows?

    And I offer my unasked-for, single piece of moving advice that I tell everyone who is planning a move: When you’re loading up the van, put your beds in last. Pack your bed linens and pillows in your car. When you arrive, put the bed(s) in place in the new house first, and make up the bed(s). FIRST, before ANYTHING else. Because at the end of that long day, you’ll be able to collapse into your own bed and just sleep. There’s nothing worse than being so exhausted and having to make up the bed before you can sleep. There. No more unasked-for advice beyond that. And good luck with the negotiations, paperwork, and the Day Of.

    1. Wow Terry, that’s incredibly welcome advice: I love the self-care of ensuring the bed is ready first! It’s funny with moving – I couldn’t have imagined it at all until about about eighteen months ago when it just felt right to start making it real. We were talking about it in 2020 and have been looking for the right coastal place for several years, but all of a sudden I just knew: it’s time. I think moving house is really emotional, not to be rushed, and something you either want or you don’t. Your home sounds amazing and no need to leave unless it feels right. And thanks again for the amazing bed advice, so tactfully shared as well – I appreciate that a lot and will be sure to put it into practice when time comes.

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