Feral Gardening

Early last summer from the middle of Wales I took a car to a train to the ferry to a city-bus to a train to a coach to the west coast of Ireland, where a very close friend from the US was having a celebration of marriage to the Irish man-of-her-dreams. Jenny was also having a party in the States, but for reasons a little of money but more of a commitment to minimal flying, I managed to organise with my husband this trip to Ireland on my own. The kids were in school, he was able to work from home, and off I went on an adventure.

It did feel like “Slow Travel,” and rare time in which days expand and contract, go by in a eye-blink but are full of thought, stimulation, sensation, a sense of freedom. I love being by myself, and I love being with my close friends.

Lots of walks on winding roads overlooking the sea, and one day we nosied our way into a garden that looked… messy and lovely and full of clothes lines and flowers and perpetual salad greens and snakes of yellow hose and artist’s mosaics. We popped ourselves in, and were promptly properly invited in, to a sharing of stories and wine and crisps and photographs and memories and paintings and an incredible kind of generosity.

Just inside her front door was this: a crumbling wall and loosening tiles and an escaped kale plant growing in an opportunity of a crack. It must have been born of seed blown in on a frisky wind, and here it was struggling to make its way to sunshine and warmth.

Kale in its hardiness and its healthfulness is almost a cliché of local-food people, because it grows in the cold and it does not fear the elements. It is prolific and possible where other plants fail. Kale is the deepest green. Kale itself is feared by children. Kale can be delicious and it can be wretched, chewy, stringy, bland. Some of the kale seeds I planted in the spring and never managed to transplant are still hanging on so many months later, and I’m putting them, in their almost bonsai state, into the new beds to see what happens. And actually, the kale I did plant barely survived all that caterpillar of the white butterfly that thrived in this summer’s heat.

I love the idea of an escaped seed, and especially one that seeks to go inside. I used to frequently explore the idea of the domestic and “the wild” in my artwork, when I made it. I think I used to feel so bounded by domestic life, by the worlds I create indoors and in solitary wonderment, that fantasies of unboundedness, un-restraint, un-human, felt liberating. But I like when the whole opposition between these ideas is shattered, or at least I guess when the wild permeates the domestic, as in this bit of accidental gardening, or in wild-fermenting foods, or even– inviting the strangers in for tea.

I know there’s a sense among many people I know that there’s not “hope” for humans working it out, getting it right anymore. The climate is reaching tipping points for feedback much quicker than worst scenarios predicted. We’re in a time of petty-minded, pro-corporate, anti-small politics that can feel like a new form of fascism and mass-blindness and consent. Yet among thinkers and dreamers there has been for a while in the zeitgeist a renewed offering of the concept of Wild– there’s Jay Griffiths’ Wild, a beautiful etymological, ethnological and personal exploration, and her new book Kith looking at giving the experience of  wilderness back to children. There’s George Monbiot’s Feral that takes the economics and politics of farming and imagines re-wilding as a way humans could attempt to un-do some ugly damage, and a book that follows on successful projects around the world to restore ecosystems. There is of course the now classic Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Katz, all about re-inviting beneficial micro-organisms into our food and bodies. Wild Economics is all about gifting and community and freeing ourselves from injustices and degradations of the money system. Foraging for wild food. Harvesting wild energy, through the wind and sun and water. And other ways the invitation to wildness can enter our lives? Please comment!

Wild Women. Wild Men. Wild Children. Wild Food. And Wild Kale, there, growing in the Victorian tiles beneath that decrepit wall, still standing.