I love a good gardening book, so I was chuffed when I received a requested review copy of Kate Bradbury’s The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. Kate moves to Brighton after a break-up and finds herself in a small flat with an even smaller garden with soil that has not seen the light of day in what looked like decades. This is the story of how she brought the garden back to life and it, in turn, helped her get back on her feet.
At the right time
We always seem to find our garden at the exact time we need it. It doesn’t need us. It can go on, untouched by man, for years and nature will still find a way in. A dandelion here, nettles and buddleia there, seeds spread by the wind. In the beginning I was worried that the book would lose its charm as it starts in winter and I began reading it in June. You know what I mean, we all have books that read so much better when picked up at a specific time in the year. I needn’t have worried. Kate goes through her year(s) of gardening and you can’t help but rejoice with her every time a new visitor arrives. You celebrate with her when she gets her first robin. The day the birds in the garden do not bolt at the mere sight of you is cause for celebration.
Kate teaches us why it is important to provide food and shelter for wildlife, especially as we all progressively live in urbanised areas and might well end up paving or decking our outdoor space before stopping to think about what consequences that will have. I am forever adding plants to my rented garden, and I am progressively curbing my choices towards those favoured by pollinators. We do have decking, and lawn on heavy clay, which is also a (10-year-old) new build. I know what I would do if I owned the house, but we don’t. So, instead, I invest in good pots and build a strong and positive relationship with the landlady which enables us to make small changes, like creating a small (very small) bed at the bottom of the garden.
In between gardening and healing in Brighton, Kate talks about her family home and how she developed her passion for plants and wildlife. It’s funny how events in your childhood can, quite suddenly, become part of adulthood. Her memories got me thinking about mine. My parents don’t garden. They’ve never had the time or space. In Spain, they live in a flat with a juliette balcony. However, I have seen photos of their flat in Australia – a balcony full of cacti and desert-loving plants. “That was all thanks to your Spanish grandma”. Yaya Josefa was from the south of Spain, and her flat in Barcelona had pelargoniums, I do remember that. She visited my parents and stayed in Oz for a year, and their garden flourished. The secret, it seems, is to speak to your plants while you water them. And to actually water.
My British grandparents were makers. They made jams, and cordials. I used to sit with granddad in the kitchen and helped him shell peas. He was good with roses, and nan loved the smell of lavender; I chose dried lavender as my wedding bouquet. The Bumblebee Flies Anyway has the capacity to not only make you think twice about the way we are all currently using our gardens, it also prompts reflection on how we got where we are now – emotionally and ecologically. Kate encourages us to reflect more deeply on what we see in the garden. The chaffinch pecking for bugs in the loose mortar of the brick walls, house sparrows who visit the decking in search for snacks, solitary wasps drinking from the bird bath.
Every garden counts
You can build your own ecosystem in your garden. Ants annoyed me, they were everywhere on the decking and I had started to look at ways of getting rid of them. Until I noticed they were dealing with the aphids on my plants. We have birds visiting our garden since we put the bird feeder and bath out; they also feed on the insects in our garden – even on the decking. We have house sparrows visiting the window bird feeder we have at the front. If you build it, they will come. Blackbirds and starling and pigeons and robins and sparrows, all in one garden.
Kate also discusses our incapability of leaving the land be. It doesn’t need to be built on, cultivated, landscaped. One of the problems we’ll have to deal with in the near future is how to manage a growing population whilst conserving nature and wildlife, because they can live without us, but we cannot live without them. We are no indispensable, bees are. Worms are. Plants are. The garden is there for you. Life gets busy, you go away for a bit, come back to a mess. But it will always reward you. Even if it is broken. Even if you are broken.