We Reap What We Sow, embodiment and urban allotment gardening.

Part 1: autumn- late winter, October- January.

In this sharing of the first part of a year-long project to investigate the nature of embodiment in urban allotment gardening the relationship between the self and gardening is revealed. As we acknowledge the benefits of being outside and of gardening, we can begin to understand that it is necessary to shift our relationship with the earth, with where our food comes from and with how we live. This requires a slower approach. Allowing time and space in the environment has the possibility to allow a remembering of our embodiment, of our connection to the land, to community, creativity and to ourselves. 


The project takes place in an urban allotment in Birmingham, UK from October 2019-September 2020. The enquiry is situated between gardening, autoethnography, dance and somatic practice. It ponders issues of when an activity becomes art, and of how embodiment is illuminated by a relationship with the earth and with plants. As an ongoing research practice the artistic outcomes become clearer as the project develops, and this first part of the sharing investigates gardening, embodiment and writing as artistic act in itself.


When we garden, we partake in an ancient ritual. What we give our attention to is what grows – literally and figuratively. The seeds we sow and nuture today become the fruits we reap tomorrow. We chose to nurture happiness or sorrow, contentment or desire, and anger or love.  

(Murray, 2012)

5th October

I’ve recently received confirmation that I can take on the plot next to me, which is really the other half of mine. It is very overgrown, but not as badly as mine was when I acquired it, and it has square beds separated by paving slabs paths, something that the plot that I already have did not, and which I had to make. I cover much of it.  So now I have all of plot 25.   I’m excited and daunted in fairly equal measures.  I begin to make plans for an asparagus bed, soft fruit, and more space for everything else.  I take a purple cauliflower home for supper.

8th October

My friend Clare comes. She has a lot going on and some important documents to read. It’s a good place to do it, to take some time and space outside, so she sits and reads while I clear the dead dry sweet pea plants from their frames.

I spread horse muck, barrow loads of it, rotted well from the communal compost heap at the entrance to the site, layering it on top of the soil about three inches thick. It is physical work and it feels good.  I cover it and am happy to know that the soil creatures will work it in, I do not have to dig it. Now that the pernicious weeds are mostly dug out of the plot I am going to practice ‘no dig gardening’ going forwards, the principle being that we feed the soil, not plants. It enhances soil structure and encourages healthy growth; Organic matter is best spread on the surface, just leave it on the top and let the worms take it in, aerating the soil as they do so (Dowding, 2014).

I pull a cabbage and peel away the outer leaves which slugs and worms are nesting and feasting in, revealing its’ dense and solid inside. I cut it in half and share it with Clare.

12th October

I arrive and a tree is gone.  A wide-open space where it was previously. Guy, who has the plot behind me has very kindly dug it out. It must have been such hard work, and I know that I would not have been able to do it. It seems awful to remove a tree, but it shouldn’t have been there and its roots were beginning to rob the soil of any nutrients.  I buy him a bottle of honey Jack Daniels to say thank you. I figure that he will like that as he keeps bees and has half a dozen hives. 

I clear spent vegetation from the plot, vegetables and flowers and put them in the compost to return to the soil in a year or so. My Mum and my nephew Elijah come to visit me. It’s a welcome distraction, and it is lovely to see them both.

19th October

Dominic visits and brings a tarpaulin and nails with him. He spends some time fixing this over the roof and down one side of the shed in order to keep some of the rain out. The shed is rotting away but it suffices for now to keep tools in. At some point I would like a new one, but I am mindful of not wasting resources and would rather mend it until it is no longer useable.

Whilst he does this I clear a bed of cornflowers and nigella. I grew the flowers for our wedding last August and these are the last of them. I collect some seeds as I do this, and will dry them at home before placing in paper bags and labelling. I harvest poppy and calendula seeds also.

22nd October

1.45pm, sunny, 12°

Autumn is most definitely here.

I am tired most of the time.   I am teaching four Skinner Releasing Technique classes a week at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. It’s ‘only’ eight hours of teaching and I know that people do more, but holding a space for that work takes much energy and attention. Skinner Releasing Technique (SRT) is a pioneering approach to dance, movement and creative process that has evolved from the simple principle that when we are releasing physical tension, we can move with greater freedom, power and articulation (SRN, 2013).

Attention to. My body.

It never feels like there is enough time, or enough energy.

I observe plants going over, finished with their work for the year and making seed before becoming dormant. My body feels like it wants the same. As I become slower in so many aspects of my life the pace of emails and institutions is a challenge for me. I joke about wanting to retire and nurture the earth and my body (more) but really, this would suit me just fine.

I notice an undertone of anxiety as I listen to my breath here, now, in this moment. I’m not sure if anxiety is quite the right word for this sensation though, it’s more like a slight pulling, being drawn between two worlds. Wanting to continue to make a difference in my students’ lives and moving, in their bodies and relationship to their sensations and creativity, coupled with my own desires to do less.  Though as I sit and survey my plot, of course it is not doing less at all: there is considerable work to do, and it is often hard physical work; but it is methodical and takes time. I like that.  It is a lot like embodied somatic work: slow, methodical and takes time. Allowing. Patience.

The dahlias are still flowering. The Café au Lait, five of them so proud and resplendent, a bright pink cactus, a pink/yellow waterlily variety, and a white cactus all signal proudly their defiance of the change of season. They will flower until the first frost and then turn completely black overnight.


3.15pm. Time passes differently here. Getting lost, much like in a dance improvisation. Writing about process in SRT, Robert Davidson (1946-2016) tells us:

One learns, often with difficulty, to simply become available, to expect nothing, to be listening to nature at all times, to become aware, in short: to witness the process happening.

(Davidson, 1979)


Occasionally I have a plan, but mostly I turn up and see what needs attending to and I allow myself to be drawn to another activity if it calls my attention, to be available and to be listening to nature.

I am writing about gardening here, but I could easily be describing dancing. 

Yesterday I taught SRT class 3 twice, the image of sponginess stays with me. I notice my feet on the ground and soften them. I soften my ankles, knees, hips, spine, and shoulders.

I breathe in the air deeply.   The breath is our constant companion (Skinner, 2011).

As I am pulling the runner beans from their structure I am struck by how tenacious they are. Plant them, give them a pole to scramble up and support them and they pretty much look after themselves, winding round and round as they climb.  Like children, like all of us, like dancing, wild abandon is all very fine and well, but a structure/ support is what enables us to thrive.  They find their own way up it and spiral.  I am reminded of how spiralling is in contact improvisation, and of how spiralling is in our DNA.  Steve Paxton describes contact improvisations as spontaneous physical dialogues that range from stillness to highly energetic exchanges; alertness is developed in order to work in an energetic state of physical disorientation (Paxton, 1979). Spirals in my spine, and in my heart.

I notice how tightly they hold on. I do too. (Sometimes) it takes me a long time to let go. Sometimes though it is instant. Instant letting go (Skinner, 2011). And how my SRT teacher training allowed me to let go! So many things changed during and after that. I am hugely grateful.

4th November

I have been tired, a week off work and still tired.  As I begin to put the allotment to bed for the winter there is still work to do. I’d rather like to be put to bed for the winter also.

The dancer and teacher Tamara Ashley writes on social media:

I still think deep ecological understanding is richly cultivated in somatic practice. I still think that working with the earth, the land, gardening, walking, inhabiting, offers mutual relationships of health and well being when practiced on the scale of the body. I still think that attuning to nature, becoming with nature, allowing yourself to be permeable and open is a deep somatic enquiry. It all takes lots of time, to let the knowledge emerge, to take the time of the body, the time of nature, the knowing cannot be rushed or forced, it just is and reveals deeper and deeper with more practice. Gardening is a powerful somatic practice, moving mindfully, simultaneously nourishing body and earth in the moment, and body and earth in the future.

(Ashley, 2019)

5th November

Blue sky. Cold. Beautiful.

It has rained and the chicken manure pellets on the bed behind the shed that I scattered last week have swelled and spread. It’s my birthday and I plant garlic. The light fades fast and it’s cold but not unbearable. The movement and being outside energises me and I notice the functionality of keeling, crawling, bending, twisting, my joints staying supple. My breath full into my back.

And I’m so grateful.

And hopeful.

The optimism of planting something in the hope that it will grow flourish and provide harvest in over six months time is a beautiful thing.

The garlic is softneck and that is new for me. I plant Mersley Wight and Provence Wight. They are huge bulbs and the cloves fat and juicy offering 160 cloves altogether from 8 bulbs.

10th November.

Sunday. 9°. Grey sky.   It feels bleak here today. 

It's very quiet. Sunday afternoon and the children from the playing field have left after their football games. No one else is here and it's very still. It stills something in me. The roar of traffic is less also there is an occasional siren calling the prayer of the inner city.

The birds are singing, many of them in different trees.

I place hand on my heart, close my eyes and breathe deeply. Listening in. It feels like a quiet low-level grief. And of course this time of year there is a grieving, endings, a letting go of summer, of the light and a settling in to dormancy for the earth and plants and creatures.

I feel it too.

It's been four days since my last visit and the dahlias have all turned black. I did not notice that there was a frost, but I have felt the drop in temperature.

Trees are shades of russet, gold and red and some have lost their leaves completely. Soon they will all be naked, displaying their skeleton structures.

I feel longing and sadness, but not despair.

The birds have left my garlic alone. Hurrah. I'm on to them: I plant the cloves deep as when they are too near the surface the crows and magpies pull them out and throw them around. It's a game I think, as they don't seem to like to eat them. Or maybe they think that the tips sticking out are worms and then discard them when they find out that they're not.

I lift the last of the Anya potatoes and the sun comes out, bathing the plot in a golden autumn glow. My moods shifts and lifts a little.

It is late to leave the potatoes in, but they are in remarkably good condition. I intended to plant the remaining Garlic (Czechmate) in the same place but the bed is very wet. I dug that land this year for the first time since I acquired the plot, for potatoes of course. The soul is rich and full of big juicy worms now though it is edging towards boggy, so I clear half a bed in the middle of the plot instead, lifting the last of the beets and scatter some chicken poo. It's clay but drier than where I first intended to use, so I think the garlic will be happier there. I'm slightly concerned about the big bed behind the shed where I planted 160 garlic cloves earlier in the week. The corners of it are very wet. I will cross my fingers and hope that the garlic does not mind too much and does not rot.

14th November         

The foraging and wild medicine teacher Bridget Anna McNeill talks about mid-winter:

The winter solstice time is no longer celebrated as it once was, with the understanding that this is a period of descent and rest, of going within our homes, within ourselves and taking in all that we have been through, all that has passed in this full year which is coming to a close... like nature and the animal kingdom around us, this time of hibernation is so necessary for our tired limbs, our burdened minds.

Our modern culture teaches avoidance at a max at this time; alcohol lights, shopping, overworking, over spending, comfort food and consumerism.

...and yet the natural tug to go inwards as nearly all creatures are doing is strong and the weather so bitter that people are left feeling that winter is hard, because for those of us without burning fires and big festive families, it can be lonely and isolating. Whereas in actual fact winter is kind, she points us in her quiet soft way towards our inner self, towards this annual time of peace and reflection, embracing the darkness and forgiving, accepting and loving embracing goodbye to the past year. Winter takes away the distractions, the buzz, and presents us with the perfect time to rest and withdraw into a womb like love, bringing fire & light to our hearth.

.. and then, just around the corner the new year will begin again, and like a seed planted deep in the earth, we will all rise with renewed energy once again to dance in the sunlight.

                                                                                                             (McNeill, 2018)

Winter Solstice is not here yet but I am intently feeling the shortening of the days and the darkness. I yearn for the times when I can arrive at the allotment in the afternoon and work late into the evening because the light allows it. I am finding ways to embrace this time of year though.

16th November

The susurration of the trees stirs something in me.

I'm tired and restless though.

I do not commit to not doing anything, nor to resting, nor to getting out to the allotment. I do some washing up, washing, book some train tickets, faff about on social media. I write out the order form for the seed catalogue that we buy from collectively at the allotment. It saves a lot of money and also cuts down on packaging.

I'm always excited by going through my boxes of seeds, seeing what is new or unusual in the catalogue and deciding what to grow. I order some things that I don't usually grow- climbing peas and beans, different varieties of dwarf beans, romanesco, edamame beans, turnips, small varieties of cabbages, heritage multi-coloured carrots and more. I try to be careful not to duplicate what I have already and to use up seeds I have left over from the previous year.

I feel a slight sense of anxiety and I wonder about how to do less. Or rather to do Slow. I do my very best with this but it is a constant challenge in my job. I am fed up of the demands on my time for meaningless and annoying tasks. I know I'm not alone in this.

Eventually I do go to the allotment. Not for long and to take the compost from the kitchen. It has been impossible to get there earlier in the week to do any work as we have had torrential rain. The talk on radio 4 is about climate change and the flooding that has happened across the UK this week. I read somewhere about how the best thing we can all do is to grow our own food. I'm not sure of the facts of this as opposed to fuel emissions, large-scale erosion of forests and all of the other terrible things people are doing to the planet, but for a moment I am struck by the romance of the idea.

I’ve been worrying about my garlic again with the amount of rain we have had but the bed doesn't look too flooded.

I feel cold. Though I know it will get colder than the 9° it is now.

Later I make a vegetable stew and use garlic harvested earlier in the year and hung in the kitchen like giants' necklaces, stored onions, Charlotte potatoes and lots of thyme. I feel very happy watching my family eating it and knowing how nourishing it is for their bodies and minds.

I must get the broad beans in.

18th November

It feels like there is little to tell in terms of activity at the plot, and I notice myself worrying about that a little. And then I realise that of course there is much going on:

All of the work that is putting the land to rest over the winter . . . . . nourishing the soil . . . . gathering of seeds and buying new ones . . . . clearing ground, pulling, spreading muck, mulching, pruning, and covering beds. And the rest that the land needs is also the rest that I need, that we all need in this time of short days and less light, but the land declares it much more clearly than we do.

It is my boy's 21st birthday. It moves me deeply. My work of nurturing him over so many years and through some very challenging times is of course not finished, but that work of loving someone so wholely and unconditionally, of caring so deeply, of knowing of the delicate and fierce connections between me and this other (wonderful human) is so beautiful. My heart sings. I am so proud and so happy that my son is a smart, thoughtful, tenacious and talented human.

Of course parenting is a series of planting seeds of knowledge, of offering what you know, and then of letting go. Of letting go of desires and expectation for whom your child will be and how they will behave and be in the world.

In parenting and in gardening we give it our best effort, we plough the groundings, we invest our love and our hope and our optimism, we weed out the undesired as best we can, we heap on more goodness, more love, more tenderness, more attention, and then we have to let go of expectations and of desires and see what happens.

23rd November

I plant broad beans with my six year old niece Georgie. I teach her how to push them into the soil, one per pot. We sow eighteen, three blocks of six.  She talks in wonder of the sunflower we planted last year that she nurtured, and that became so enormous that the stem broke under its weight.

I tip the seeds that I collected last month into paper bags and label them. I think of how my mother and I planted things together, and of what she taught me about gardening. And about tenacity.

S. Griffin writes: 

Because we know ourselves to be made from this earth. See this grass. The patches of silver and brown. Worn by the wind. The grass reflecting all that lives in the soil. The light. The grass needing the soil. With roots deep in the earth. And patches of silver. Like patches of silver in our hair. Worn by time. This bird flying low over the grass. Over the tules. The cattails, sedges, rushes, reeds, over the marsh. Because we know ourselves to be made from this earth. Temporary as this grass. Wet as mud. Our cells filled with water. Like the mud of this swamp. Heather growing here because of the damp. Sphagnum moss floating on the surface, on the water standing in these pools. Places where the river washes out. Where the earth was shaped by the flow of lava. Or by the slow movements of glaciers. Because we know ourselves to be made from this earth, and shaped like the earth, by what has gone before. The lives of our mothers.

(Griffin, 1978, p. 107)

26th November

I have much work to do, mostly administrative and research stuff. I am tired, and struggle to get up in the mornings at the moment.

My students are tired too.  Yesterday, teaching SRT class 7, they were so tired. In class 7 we are curling and uncurling (Skinner, 2011) and going right into our shadow spaces. It seems fitting for this season, and I let them rest, reminding them that the dark will recede after winter solstice in four weeks time, and that it is a time for hibernation, restoration, now. That we will uncurl again with the plants in spring.

That trees show a last magnificent blast of colour before pulling all of their resources in, back in to themselves to regenerate, rest for the colder months.

I know that I need some exercise.  I’m teaching lots but not attending well enough to my own physical practice.  Instead of going back to sleep I decide to at least walk to the allotment to take the compost. It’s raining but only lightly, the kind of rain that you don’t realise is making you so wet.

Opening the gate I stop to marvel at the water sparkling like crystals on three cobwebs.

2nd December   

It's cold, bleak and beautiful.  I wrap up in layers for the first time that I've been out of the house in three days.

I received some frustrating news this week that saddened me. It wasn’t unexpected, but rocks me anyway. It feels like grief. It is grief.  I feel ashamed somehow, diminished, misunderstood. And under that is frustration, some anger, and some wondering that maybe I'm deluded and I'm just not good enough. The latter I know to not be true, but old stories rear their heads in moments like this.

Dancer/choreographer Peter Schmitz tells us that the most political act we can make is to inhabit ourselves with integrity (Schmitz, 2014).  I wonder as I struggle to get out of bed this weekend what I am bothering for? I wonder if I need to change what I am doing and to reassess what my priorities are? I know that I do inhabit myself with integrity, and that is indeed a political act, particularly as a woman in academia and dance/art.

It's tough at the moment.  I am aware that being outside will help. So I do go to the plot, eventually.  No one else is there.

Guy has five new very handsome chickens. His rabbits are nearly ready for slaughter, six of them, and there are another fifteen or so kittens still in with their mothers. Some of them don't have toes after the fox tried to get them.

I clear some foliage that has died back from gladioli and dahlias, give the scabious a chop. Pull up and dig out some strawberry runners, cover a bed with membrane, and look at the sky.

A robin briefly says hello. He is shy and flies away as soon as I greet him, but I've not seen robins here before so maybe he will become accustomed to me and we can become friends like the one who used to hang out for long periods of time with me in my garden on Grange road when Jacob was little. He would sit on the handle of a spade, a picture perfect replica of images on Christmas cards and in Beatrix Potter stories.

I talk to Jacob 0n the telephone. He's meeting a layer at his office in Soho and then heading to the science museum. He’s excited and I’m delighted for him.

I water the compost on top of the stuff I've added from home and the plot, and I stir the one that is nearly ready. It's a beautiful sight.

I marvel at the moon, hanging crescent in the sky at 4pm, under lit by oranges, greys, and reds. I notice a nest in a tree that is silhouetted against the darkening sky that I hadn't seen before and is revealed now because the tree has shed its leaves. Birds fly to and fro from it, twittering at the encroaching evening.

Dominic calls me to see how I'm doing and I'm touched by his kindness. My heart aches a little when he asks me how I am. I reply that the day is fitting, and that I feel like it: bleak and cold, but that there's a beauty in the clarity of the hurt in my tissues. A tightness but softness.

Every one of the broad beans that I planted has gone. There is a single thumb shaped hole in the centre of each pot where they have been neatly pulled out. I marvel at the ingenuity of it, smile, and tell the mouse that she is welcome to them.

9th December  

7˚.  Sunny.

Things have shifted considerably for me in the past week. I feel less helpless and less hurt, more optimistic and hopeful somehow.

I go to yoga class this morning and it feels so good to breathe and move, to make space into my body. I know that the thing I need to do to counteract fatigue is to move, but sometimes it’s so hard because I’m so tired. It’s a strange dichotomy. Class this morning is full of joy and I know how well it prepares me for working on the land.

It is very cold but sunny. I moved a meeting as the weather report says that it will rain every day this week apart from today, so take the opportunity to spend half a day at the allotment.  I eat a sandwich and marvel at the sky. No one else is here.

I clear dahlias. The Café au Lait stems are so thick and strong, unlike any I’m used to. I move a large pink cactus dahlia out of the bed that two Chandos Beauty roses are in, planted last year ahead of our wedding, and I wonder why one of them looks so healthy and one doesn’t.  In the spring I will plant out the six roses that have taken from the cuttings I tried last spring, and have a rose bed. This thought makes me happy although I worry slightly about whether they will be strong and healthy as I’ve read mixed reports about how well roses do from cuttings. We will see.

I pick some stones from the top of a bed and wonder at how it is that they seem to rise to the surface no matter how many I remove. One of the covers has blown off another bed and I have a look at the horse muck that I have spread there last month. It is doing well. There are big fat worms where there were previously none and I say hello to a few as I scrape back some of the horse manure to have a look. The soil is much improved. I scatter chicken poo on a couple of beds because there is no communal horse muck left.

There is so much to do still, but I do what I can in a few hours. I take to the task of cutting back herbs and collecting thyme to hang in the kitchen. There’s a witchery to that and it makes me think of the women who were persecuted as witches for their knowledge of healing, herbs, and women’s work and circles. I imagine that could have been my fate had I been born in a different time. Later, I tie the thyme, three different varieties, in bunches and hang in the kitchen. It will see us through until I crop it again next year.

13th December

It is a dark day for our country today.   A Tory landslide. 

Yesterday I was so full of hope.  I taught the open professional class in Birmingham, SRT class 4 to a wonderful group of dancers and reflected on how brilliant the dance community is here and how much it has grown.  We are sighing into softening our tissues and opening the spaces in our inner landscape whilst simultaneously noticing the spaces around us. Our inner and outer worlds can co-exist.

Then onto a lecture on practice research to 2nd year acting students, followed by a load of admin tasks and a final year acting show which was wonderful.  All of these bright young people full of creativity and art.  In a taxi drive home: swapping notes with the driver on how brilliant Jeremy Corbyn is.  He took me to my polling station, waited and drove me home.


Then devastation in the biggest defeat for Labour since the late 80’s and Thatcher.  This will be even worse.  I cannot fathom it.   I cannot understand how the right wing press owned by billionaires have won with their lies and decisive rhetoric. I have an argument with Reuben and with Dominic; I go back to bed instead of to yoga class as I cannot face the world and I’m tired.

I wake later than I wanted to, it’s lunchtime.  There are five missed calls from my mum and I waste time on social media.  I do not want to see anyone today.

I bought 150 spring bulbs recently and I rouse myself to go and plant them.  I know that it will help and it does.  There’s an optimism in that task: in the nurture of planting them, in the trusting in the future, and in knowing that spring will return. 

15th December

The bottom of the plot is flooded. Worse than I’ve ever seen it. 

As I squat and breathe into my lower back I notice how flooded we are at the moment with feelings of loss, confusion and to some extent, despair. The cold bleakness seems fitting somehow.   

I pull up a huge and beautiful red cabbage to take my mother in law for Christmas dinner.   It’s dense and the slugs have only penetrated into the first few layers of leaves.  I imagine it must weigh about 5 kilos.  Removing these top layers stains my fingers red.   I marvel at the gorgeousness of nature, at how I planted a tiny seed and this beauty grew from it.

I empty the kitchen scraps into the compost bin and recover the bed where the wind has blown off the membranes.   There is still work to do, some clearing and weeding, some spreading of compost.  The strawberry beds need sorting out as they are so prolific with their runners, but it’s cold and that’s enough for today. 

20th December

I didn’t go out of the house today apart from into the back garden for a smoke with Dominic after dark. I was perfectly happy though, cleaned the house very thoroughly but not ferociously.   It took me about five hours.  My friend Kerstin calls it house magic. It certainly is, so cathartic and clearing to have a clean and tidy house.

I will light candles tomorrow for the winter solstice. To welcome the light back in.  Winter solstice falls in the heart of the winter on the shortest day and the longest night of the year. It is an opportunity in our busy lives to put aside some time to pause, to appreciate the stillness and rest that is the gift of midwinter, to reflect on the old year that is finishing and to look forward with hope for the new year about to begin. It is a celebration of our connectedness, to our family and friends, and to the Earth and her cycles. Lighting candles for the 'Return of the Sun' is an old tradition at this time (Kindred, 2015).


It is thirty five years today since my brother Theo died and I always find Christmas tricky.  I don’t know how anyone survives the unexpected death of a child, but we did.  And remarkably my parents did: together somehow.  It is a testament to their love for each other and the deep strength of character and spiritedness that they both possess. It’s fitting somehow that he died at the darkest time of year.  It is such a dark dark experience and although some parts of it are hazy, others are very clear, burnished into my memory somehow by the trauma and pain of it all.


Tomorrow I will go to my allotment. That will help also.  It always does. As I light candles and place them on every windowsill in my house I’m reminded of some writing from a performance piece of my own from many years ago which was lit by hundreds of candles:

Candles in daylight

Wind against the sun

Walking on the lines.

Again. Over and over again.


(Hudson, 2003)

27th December 

It’s 4pm and getting dark.   No one is here and it is quiet and bleak. Cold but calming.  I feel awful today.  My PMT hormonal shift leaves me feeling bereft.  I am tired.  Today I have cried and wanted for someone to put their arms around, but also I have been very difficult company and wanted to be alone, sending out such mixed signals must be confusing for those around me. It’s time to see the doctor again about these (on occasions) debilitating perimenopausal symptoms.


To get dressed and wash my face and go to the plot with the kitchen waste for the compost is quite an achievement, and I feel better for it. One rose defiantly rises at the top of a bush.  It’s been in bud for weeks, giving a little sign of defiance at the top of a bleak mid-winter plot.  I cut it and take it home and it opens in the warmth of the house quite quickly.  It speaks as a symbol of resilience.  It feels like a nice analogy for how we all need a little tenderness to make it through dark days. I know that I am resilient, but sometimes I do not want to have to be. 


At home later I watch a short film in which Ram Dass interviews Thich Nhat Hanh who talks about anger as a flower that needs the care of sunshine (Dass, 2013). He talks about tenderness, about mindfulness and how kindness is part of us, but anger is also part of us. They are both energies within us and of us and that the energy of anger can be transformed into the energy of compassion.

I think about this and wonder about how taking care of our anger is as a flower that needs the care of sunshine, about this tenderness and about what kindness we can offer ourselves.  I’m furious as an underpinning sensation and I notice how if I take care of that more gently it can therefore be allowed to transform into something else.  Or even if I can sit with it and acknowledge it, the impact of it on other people and on myself is somehow easier in my owning of it and holding it firmly but gently and attentively, as one would a baby.


Christmas time is always odd for me.  I have spent six days looking after other people, cooking, organising, all of the Christmas stuff, and I am deeply tired. And perhaps somewhat resentful, which isn’t fair as no one asked me to.  I know that I’m not alone in this.  Yet there has been so much laughter and kindness over Christmas and it has been wonderful. It has been full of love and lovely family people. 


I am so grateful that the light is returning and the weather reports tell me that early next week it will be a bit warmer and sunny.  So, I am looking forward to a few whole days on site to do the work that needs doing.  For now a drink and a sit down outside in the quiet for a few minutes does help restore and calm my nervous system and as I breathe deeply I know that I need to hold my anger and sadness lightly and kindly. 

2nd January 

The days are lengthening, but I do not get to the plot until 1pm as I have been awake late, and sleeping late.  It gives me some time, but not quite enough.

The flooding water has subsided and drained away now.

I clear the remnants of the borage plants. They are buggers: it is lovely to have one or two, they are so pretty and the bees love them, but they self seed and spread a lot. I scrape up what I can of the seeds and pick out handfuls of worms that are hiding underneath them feasting on the decaying plants and relocate them on a bed that has been prepared for planting.  They quickly work their way down into the soil and I’m touched by how they will work their magic out of sight underground.

I pull out a couple of kale plants that have been decimated by the birds. They could have lasted through the rest of winter but I want to cover that bit of ground. Its towards the bottom of the plot where it is heavier clay but as I turn over the surface a little with a hand trowel and dig out a few weeds the worms there are thick, big and abundant.  The soil is healthy and I sprinkle organic chicken manure pellets before covering it to give a little extra goodness.


I cut back roses and move one, realising that I planted them too closely together last year. No one else is here and I like it. I’ve been with people a lot these past few weeks of Christmas and New Year celebrations. It has been lovely, but I know my own need for solitude. It is rare for me to experience loneliness when alone, rather, I usually find it nourishing.

A lovely book about the Zen of gardening and 2020 Almanac arrive in the post. I do not know much about gardening according to moon cycles but I’m interested to learn and to give it a go. Today’s new moon is apparently an auspicious day for digging (Leendertz, 2019). I do a little bit of digging.

My peace is disturbed by numerous phone calls from Jacob who is poorly and angry. It’s challenging but I dig deeply and listen. I wonder how I can help him to learn better self care. I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s (1939-2019) beautiful words, for both my son, and for myself:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

(Oliver, 2004)

18th January

We go to the Wassailing at Highbury Orchard in our local park. Wassailing is an annual tradition which involves blessing orchards to ensure a good harvest for the year to come. The celebrations involve music, song, dance and a recognition of what orchards give to us …  Once a popular folk custom, wassailing almost disappeared from public knowledge before being revived in the 20th century, and now it's rising in popularity (National, n.d.).

Lots of people are there with lit fire torches, gifts for trees and birds, wearing leaf crowns and banging pots and pans, singing and welcoming in the spring, asking the tress to wake up.   It’s fun and jolly.

19th January

Sunday. 3° and sunny

It has been a tough few weeks, a serious crisis for one of the boys, and a death.  That, my work load and rainy weather mean that I haven’t been to the allotment for a while.  

The garlic are coming through.  As are alliums and some other bulbs.  It’s always such a joy to see new life emerging.  It’s quiet here and my animal body listens to the birds singing and breathes in the sunshine and air.  I wonder how people cope without this, without being outdoors or having time to soften, slow down and listen in to sensation.    I don’t do much of it in a dance studio anymore but this is my studio, my church, my sanctity.

I have been thinking a great deal about gardening as a somatic practice. It’s so obvious somehow. 

I look at the roses which are budding after their chop a few weeks ago.  It makes me very happy. 

Steve has taken on a plot at the bottom of the site and he comes with his grandson Corey.  He asks what I grow and I tell him how I got the couch grass and brambles out by digging meticulously by hand. 

I cover the dahlia bed and a section at the bottom by the shed that needs to be fallow for a while.  I notice the golden glow of winter sun on the teasels as I leave. It is so beautiful and it warms my heart. 

21st January

I clear the remaining branches of the tree that Guy dug out, cut back brambles and pull out some couch grass. It comes away easily and underneath it is very good soil, I think the remains of compost bins from before I took over the plot. 


I squat to think, to listen to the birds and I breathe into my sore sacroiliac joint from an impact injury over a year ago.


I ponder about how the land and plants call to me, and about how nurturing this is. The Persian poet Rumi tells us: let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.  (Rumi, 2004).

31st January


I have been poorly and in bed for much of the last week and a half, so have not been to the plot. 


It is Imbolc tomorrow. We cleaned the house and opened the windows to let in air. As the days begin to lengthen I am excited for spring time. For all the possibilities that are coming, of new life and all that the allotment will allow me to nurture, both the plants and myself.


I went out dancing last night.  It felt so good, the pounding of the music in my heart and tissues.  I danced for a few hours, sweaty and happy.  

Today I wake up with a pain in my leg.  I must have slept strangely.  A walk to the allotment and squatting to look at the buds on roses and the spring bulbs coming through helps. 


Hope springs. 




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