plants and growing and being alive

today, with the help of a wonderful friend, i did something i’ve been wanting to do for so long. and it fits in with the blog.

we fixed up my balcony garden.

it feels monumental to me.  it was one of the first signs of illness for me – when my nausea got severe earlier this year, it was what i dropped. i totally dropped the ball on caring for my garden.  it was one of my biggest interests and passions – i mean, this blog was about my damn garden for the majority of its existence.  (come on, go look at the archives. i know you care about the size of my basil leaves. seriously, i got some the size of my admittedly quite tiny hand.  HAND SIZED LEAVES!!!). i ended up just feeling sick all the time, and so miserable i just didn’t care about anything at all.  and then, as i worked out the cause of the nausea, the curious incident of my liver and the tumours started, and three weeks later, i was diagnosed with advanced cancer.

all of my interests dropped off. all my energy became consumed in trying to work out how to deal with the fear, the treatment, the surgery, the waiting, the appointments and scans that took up all my time, the financials, everything.  and i let my garden go.  there was grass growing all through all the pots, there was a dead tomato plant, and a tiny little strawberry plant in an overrun pot.

given how i don’t know where i will be, or when i will be anywhere over summer, i’ve tried to make it as low maintenance as humanly possible. there are ferns, and more succulents, and some violets and geraniums.  i have some more mint, and lots of shade tolerant things, as the balcony gets a huge amount of sun in winter, and pretty much none in summer. it makes for a pleasant place to sit – but a difficult place to grow.

i came to the difficult decision that growing food in the space i have is an exercise in painful futility.  there is not enough space to make it economical. it is an expensive hobby.  i had a high fail rate on germination, because the microclimate is not good for seed raising.  the plants i did manage to germinate and grow rarely had much food off them, other than the herbs, and the tomatoes. the tomatoes, as great as they are, just aren’t going to make sense if we’re going to be away a lot, and i’m going to be unable to easily water them post-surgery.  so, this time, there’s less food, more ornamentals, and i am happy with that mix.  the main thing i still do, and will continue to have, is herbs, because they are amazingly beneficial to have on the balcony, and way cheaper than buying them in the supermarket. my herb count is zaatar, mint, spearmint, parsley, sage, marjoram, and rosemary.  i intend growing basil as well, in a huge pot, because basil is one of the most useful things i’ve found to grow.  needs a lot of water, but pays for itself in about a month.  i also have a blueberry tree, and a lemon tree, and rhubarb.  i haven’t eaten anything off them (other than about three bitter blueberries last year) but i don’t care. i love them for their beauty.

i feel.. it’s hard to say how i feel seeing something i loved and cherished so much returned to a state of beauty and something i feel proud of.  it is a big feeling. i feel like this is an aspect of my life that is almost kind of normal. my plants again, back, and happy.  to have someone help me do this and make my balcony feel alive again is one of the best gifts i could ever receive.

i used to have the worst black thumb. i killed everything i tried to grow with a combination of ignorance and then neglect.  each year, i’ve gotten better, and now i’ve managed to keep most of my plants alive through a winter of intense neglect, by choosing the right sorts of plants, and having set them up well. i am very proud of my garden – it illustrates to me every day that i can learn new skills and achieve something beautiful, even if it’s only beautiful to me. the garden looks scrappy from the ground – people walking past will just see a stack of pots, and some cinder blocks (alex’s home brewing set up – she makes her own beer).  but on the balcony? it is green and joyous and alive. it is so alive! even when filled with weeds, even when limp and neglected – it continues to hold onto life with every bit of energy it can muster from the dry, undernourished soil.  (it was a long time between fertilisers).  i did this.  i made this happen. this is why it is so important to me – i often feel pretty useless, and like everything i do is just rotten. the cancer has made this worse than i can imagine – i mean, down to things like dying, all i can think about is how me dying would screw up so many other people’s lives.  that, and i don’t want to go. but the first thought is for those i leave behind, and how hard that will be when it does, eventually, later rather than sooner we hope, happen.

it makes me think of being alive.  it makes me try and avoid thinking about 5 year survival rates that bit harder.  it makes me also just think about growing, and living, and being present.  i need to water them every day. or, if i can’t for some physical reason, i need to ask alex to.  they are my responsibility. it is my job to remember to keep them watered and healthy, and my job to do it as long as i am physically able.  and it is a thing that implies time.  time to see the jasmine grow. next year i will train it.  in four years, the lemon will be huge and strong! time. time. time. i do not have neutral feelings about time.  it is… it is complicated.  i remember that no one is telling me to watch that clock, and no one has painted a date or a time on it, because i’ve told them not to.  if i was dying i would know.  aren’t we all dying? or living with the knowledge that the passage of time will take every single one of us at the end?

i’m sorry to talk so much about dying, but it’s a major thing in my narrative at the moment, and i need to try and find a way to wrap my head around it. it’s still a confusing puzzle. it is a weird thing to face. it was abstractly something i got my head around awhile ago, but with each day, with each moment closer to the fact i will die, and that is one day less, one day gone, i try and understand the emotional reality of what it means to know you are more likely than not to die young.  like i’ve said before, none of my doctors think i am in any immediate danger of kicking any buckets in the next few years. my cancer is treatable, even if that treatment will take a lot of time, and a lot of steps to get under control at this point. but if one thing breaks – one step in this long line of steps doesn’t work, the game changes.  the end point shifts.  and accepting this as truth, as well as hoping and remaining optimistic and stubborn about not giving into the fear is very very difficult.

plants help me. they are green. they grow. i look after them. and i forget for a bit when i see them, and think about how much i’ve nurtured my space, that i’m watching a clock. photo




About elizabeth

various things.
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5 Responses to plants and growing and being alive

  1. Cordelia says:

    You are beautiful.

    I grew arugula on a shaded balcony and it was good, you may also have luck with lettuce. It doesn’t like the heat.

    • veritas says:

      sadly, i hate lettuce. with a weird, fiery passion. it is not friends with my tummy.

      also, i thought you’d like to know i wore that cardigan you knitted and handed onto me to my scan today for good luck. xxx

  2. Cordelia says:

    Aww, I’m glad it’s still seeing the good life. Sorry about the lettuce.

  3. Catherine A says:

    I cherish my garden too. It renews me, and makes the rest of my life worthwhile. I’ve just popped some money into gofundme – please use some for plants.

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