Woodland garden peace.
It was a terrible day when Nerys received the news. ‘You have a year at the most,’ the consultant had said. She took the news with calm dignity. There would be little time left before the great event – the one everyone knew would end their life’s work and actually be the end – full stop.
When confounded with any problem she always took a walk to the bottom of her garden, to the damp, boggy glade where she cultivated marsh marigold, astilibes, hostas and primulas amongst other moist soil loving plants. In the centre a stone seat had always been there under an arching rhododendron. It was worn as if generations of other occupants of the cottage had come down here looking for their own particular peace. She sat and stared beyond the gnarled hawthorn boundary to where she could see the Preseli hills rising far above.
Nerys wanted to leave a sign that she had loved this place. But what could she make, weave, or build that would last when there was such little time left to accomplish anything?
The question was the only thing left that worried her, apart from how her daughter and grandchildren would manage without her.
What she had to do could only be done slowly to conserve energy. She cleared the glade of brushwood and was pleased to see the ground rose slightly in a bowl shaped bank around the wetter land allowing her to plan to plant a variety of colourful shrubs. She had a plan but no time to see it come to fruition.
They will be pleased though, she thought with mounting pleasure.
The “They” she referred to were the denizens of this place, for it was here that she suspected mythical creatures existed.
In this place she could tell the glade’s residents her problems. A year ago, out of the corner of her eye, shapes had begun to flit and scamper from her imagination or from the medication. These days they had taken almost solid form and had become used to her. Some were even mischievous enough to make faces at her. Others regarded her with detachment and sat on twigs and pebbles to look up in their own disbelief. But however nonchalant they were she always spoke to them of her gardening triumphs and occasionally of her problems. At times some appeared to listen. Over the last few weeks more than ever had congregated to fidget in her peripheral vision when she came to sit among them. Then a few had become an attentive audience and swatted any of their woodland brethren that dared to imitate mice squeaks, owl hoots or merely pull faces.
Amongst the scents of early morning, Nerys strode from the oak door of her cottage. It was her chosen time to communicate with the apparitions. She pottered along the mown path between well kept borders and stumbled downhill between fern and wildflower laced banks to the glade beneath Foel Cwmcerwyn, the tallest of the Preseli hills.
Nerys groaned as her aching limbs deposited her on the cold stone seat. She sighed, took a few ragged breaths and savoured the atmosphere of the place. Just this once she had something to ask of her friends.
‘Soon I shall have to leave. You have allowed me to share good news and problems; you listened as I tried to put my complex world to rights. But all I have told you pales into insignificance for me as I prepare for a great journey.’ Nerys looked around to see if some of the woodland beings were listening. She was sure at least a dozen familiar ones were there sitting or squatting in the shade of the smoky white astilibe flowers. ‘After I leave you, I wonder if you could do something for me.’ In her shaky hands she held an envelope containing many small offerings to improve the magic of her favourite place. ‘I’ll spread these seeds along the bank. Could you nourish them and give them life? I would be grateful if you could.’
She got up, smiled, and bowed slightly to her friends. Then, being careful not to tread on them, she slowly climbed and sprinkled her gift for the future into the bank. This final act completed she found herself shaking with emotion and exhaustion. The doctors were right, her time here was over.
Nerys waved a final goodbye and felt her life ebbing away. She lay down and small hands stroked and comforted her. Her audience stayed, without trying to play any pranks or utter a single mocking squeak. She drifted away into a relaxed and final sleep where she let her mind sink into the fertile soil. Her hands and feet seemed to extend and became fibrous. As they sank into the ground she felt herself change beyond mere death and decomposition. A surge of renewed life and an overwhelming pleasure filled her as her shoots emerged from the ground. First, cotyledons formed, then lush green leaves followed. In time she smiled and blossomed into flower.
It was peaceful in the glade and one day she became aware her daughter had come to visit.
‘She’s left some kind of magic here,’ said Aerona in awe as she sat on the bench with Deri her young son and daughter Idris. This time last year they had scattered Nerys’ ashes down here along the bank – then within a year a circle of azaleas had grown and blossomed. They were now two feet high and in flower, filling the bank with a blazing palette of reds, oranges, whites and pinks. A true artist had created something here that spread beyond one person’s life to the next generation and into the future.
Out of the corner of her eye Aerona thought she caught a smile. Was it an echo of her mother’s enjoyment of this place or was it something more magical. She decided to visit this enchanted place every day to find out.
Photos by Suzanne Ashworth – taken at Hilton Court Gardens, Roch, Pembrokeshire