Faith in the Future – Gardening Volunteer Blog
Planting bulbs feels counter-intuitive.
Even if you allow for the news that was on the radio when I headed out of the house for my volunteer shift, about lockdowns, vaccines and infection rates, the cold wind blowing around the amphitheatre and the brown, crispy leaves it stirs up means that spring has never felt so far away. Add to that the sparse vegetation around the Robin Hood statue that stands outside the visitor centre and it really starts looking like an odd thing to do.
Physically planting the bulbs isn’t always easy, either. The bank around the amphitheatre was made using the ground that was excavated to build it, along with rubble to shore it up. It means that, while the planting tool goes into the soil easily on one patch of ground, just a foot away it’s bouncing off half a brick. Since some of them need to be deeper than the others, you need ‘brute force and belief,’ in the words of one of the other volunteers, to get them in the ground.
But these aren’t just any old bulbs. These are wild flowers, chosen on the basis of species that are already found in the forest or are native to the area. By the time spring comes, the plan is that the area that flanks the accessible car park, as well as the raised grass bank by the side of the centre, will be flecked with colour. Right now, when it’s damp and carpeted with leaf mulch, it’s much harder to see.
That’s why planting bulbs in the middle of November feels like the ultimate expression of hope in the future. The weather is cold, the ground is hard and the bulbs themselves look more like lumps of old chewing gum than something that contains new life, but by spring, they should be bursting into life and help the areas where they’re planted look very different.
In this sentence, it’s ‘should’ that’s the key word. Results aren’t instant, or will show in days or even weeks. If the bulbs aren’t viable, or we’ve not done our job as amateur, volunteer gardeners, this won’t work. This is why planting at this time of year is about faith in the future.
For that reason, this volunteering task feels a bit different. This morning, leaves were raked and put into bags, areas were tidied and the edges of paths were redrawn. And this afternoon, we planted bulbs that will come up long after our gardening trousers have gone in the wash. That feels like it’s just a tiny bit defiant. While the radio talks about bad news, a bunch of volunteers at the visitor centre in Sherwood Forest have done something positive.
On a more basic level, it’s also about sharing the RSPB’s belief that nature is about more than just bird life. As well as the splash of colour for visitors, there are the insects that the flowers will support, the birds that will feed off the insects, soil that will become more resistant to erosion as the flowers and, later, hedging plants grow and whole organic communities that will develop. That starts here with a handful of dry, uninspiring bulbs being dropped into the ground.
With the soil over the bulbs stamped down and the light fading, it’s time to head in. Looking back at the ground, it doesn’t look as though anything much has happened here, and the news will go on being gloomy for some time yet. But in a few months, the hope is that everything should have started to look a bit different.