At first, it sounded like incarceration — locked down — and a deadly one at that, with the terrifying injunction to stay at home to save lives. The very real implications were too hard to ignore, not just the headlines and the uncertainty, but the rising levels of anxiety as... Read More
At first, it sounded like incarceration — locked down — and a deadly one at that, with the terrifying injunction to stay at home to save lives. The very real implications were too hard to ignore, not just the headlines and the uncertainty, but the rising levels of anxiety as real as the sound of the sirens
that punctured the eerie silence hanging over our empty suburban streets. It was weird and unsettling. Touching was verboten, grandparents were sent into exile. Daily death tolls doubled and, with them, our sense of mortality.
But then, little by little, the mood changed. Day after day, the sun shone with surprising warmth, the earth stirred and the trees began to reveal themselves — showing off the ‘blossomest blossom’ (a phrase coined by a dying Dennis Potter) there had ever been. Suddenly, our senses were heightened. Perhaps it was the absence of traffic, the lack of contrails around the Biggin Hill stack, but the sky was clearer, the air sweeter, the grass greener, and into the space left behind by human activity stepped nature.
It was visceral. As the usual whirr of a busy day slowed, the volume outside was turned up. Birdsong filled the air, bluebells ran riot under the apple trees, the wisteria bloomed. We found nests full of eggs, cleared nettles, planted seeds. Our lives became entwined with nature’s rhythm. As Dan Pearson tells us in this issue, the Japanese divide their year into 72 micro-seasons, one for every five days, each with its own wonderfully descriptive name. We think we now know why.
During our bitter-sweet coronavirus spring, imperceptible changes suddenly became perceptible for the first time: the colour and shapes of tulips as they go over; the tiny tendrils of a new sweet-pea shoot; the families of frogs; the back-lit, vivid green of the robinia tree as it burst into life. Even our old ash tree, coming into leaf last as always, slowly threw a welcome shade across the terrace. Animals ventured out too: fox cubs from under the compost heap, a pheasant in our neighbours’ garden, and seagulls in suburbia scavenging for waste on the overflowing tips. Did they know more than we realised? Research now suggests that in 2020 there was a drop in seismic noise — the hum of vibrations on the Earth’s crust — as transport networks and industry ground to a halt.
Our relationship with our natural surroundings creates a sense of place, identity and belonging. And if this strange year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to live in a more holistic way: to design urban green spaces, to rewild, to make use of pockets of unused land, and to create wildlife corridors where nature can continue to feel safe and untouched.
At rakesprogress, we’re still adjusting to this new world order, but, as you can see, the magazine is still here, more profuse in pages — and we’d like to think — better than ever. So, here is volume 12, a bumper issue to make up for its absence this summer. It’s not a lockdown issue, but it is filled with some of the lessons learned over the last six months. We look at birdsong, deserted playgrounds and lockdown flowers. We talk to the forensic scientist who solves crimes using her knowledge of pollen and botany. We meet Masami-Charlotte Lavault, who bravely set up Paris’ first flower farm in an old graveyard. We ask Dan Pearson about his 20-year involvement with the Tokachi Millennium Forest, and discover how he fell in love with Japan and the Japanese sensitivity to nature. There is magic in this attention to detail, to the forensic examination of nature.
As we go to print, the word ‘lockdown’ is in the air again. Wherever you are, we hope you are able, in some small way, to enjoy the silence and the stillness, and take notice of the seasons changing every five days. Even just watching nature is a healing process. Engaging with it really can help. We hope that this magazine will inspire or bring comfort as we share our take on the strangest year of our lives — not locked down, more opened up, in the most revealing way.
rakesprogress is a progressive guide to gardens, plants and flowers. It's a window to the world outside with beautiful photography, great reads and some helpful advice.