Gardening Magazine

A Choice of Paths

By David Marsden @anxiousgardener

Covid hasn’t gifted us the best of years but, for me, it had one good outcome. It nudged me in a new direction. (It also sent darkness, doubt and isolated me from family and friends but hey, let’s concentrate on a positive).

Two and a half years ago, I was a full-time professional gardener in East Sussex. I had what I considered a dream job, the dream job – sole gardener at an English Manor house; a garden I’d worked in, developed, and nurtured for ten years. I attained a level of intimacy with those five or six acres that bordered on the indecent. I planted bulbs and waited patiently for the flowers; I planted trees and watched them grow tall, some high above my head; I planted shrubs and watched them fill their intended space. I sowed the seeds, nursed the seedlings, harvested the crops, and filled my belly. And because I could, I hid little secrets about the place, little plant-surprises that only I knew about, only I knew when to seek out. I was in tune with the garden and her seasons, her moods even. (And don’t worry, I don’t know what I mean by her moods either).

A Choice of Paths

But anyway, as you know, I left Sussex and moved to Gloucestershire. For a time, I worked as a gardener here in Stroud. It didn’t take long to build up a business and soon I had as much work as I wanted. But this was different from Sussex. I didn’t spend enough time, or carry out the range of tasks, in any one garden to form the same bond I’d enjoyed at either the Priory or the Old Forge. Most of my new clients wanted help with weeding and so weeding is what I did. I weeded and I weeded, and I weeded some more. Some gardens were tiny some were huge. Some were beautiful, some not, but regardless I weeded and slowly, inevitably probably, my interest waned. My back no longer appreciates non-stop weeding and neither do my knees. Nor my shoulders or my hands. Let alone my brain. I cast about for other work.

As an ex-gardener in his 50s, you can imagine what excitement and anticipation my job applications elicited from the local economy. Yeah, I was overwhelmed by a tsunami of silence. But then, on June 1st, 2020, I had an idea.

Do a degree, David. Covid isn’t really increasing your job opportunities, is it? Now is the time. Do a bloody degree.

And so, almost 40 years after dropping out of a BSc in Human Ecology at Huddersfield Polytechnic, I’m studying again. Not a science degree this time but a BA in English and Creative Writing. I’m writing short stories and I’m writing plays. I’m studying Anglo-Saxon, Old English, Old Norse, poetry, and a raft of other stuff I barely comprehend.

A Choice of Paths

And it is marvelous. If not perfect. I haven’t been on campus since October, there is no socialising and I have no idea what some of my fellow students look like – because of masks on campus or their reluctance to switch on cameras during online lectures. But going back to university has been the right decision.

A Choice of Paths

I realize my blog has been quiet for too long and I wanted to explain why: how I’ve taken a different path and that posting hasn’t been high on my to-do list. And I also wanted to say hello, see how you’re doing and ask about your current path. Is it well-trodden and reassuring? Or over-grown and barely discernible? Whichever it is, I hope you’re finding your way.

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