Giving Shelter

Last year I bought some bedraggled strawberry plants or rather I rescued them from outside a shop where they were dying of thirst. The staff inside told me the watering machine (can?) was broken and they didn’t have time to go outside to water them anyway. I don’t think they were uncaring, just overworked, and they did give me a discount.

I brought them all home and could almost hear their sighs of relief as they sooked up the water I stood them in, through their roots. The next day they were looking a lot less sorry for themselves and the day after that they were positively sprightly.

I repotted them into trays as they were also pot bound, their roots wrapped round and round the wee pots, seeking more soil. Then they started growing with gusto and sending out lots of shoots, which I buried under the earth so they could root. By the end of summer, the greenhouse was full of trays of strawberry plants. The nitrogen-rich organic compost I’d added to the soil apparently primes them to grow lots of lovely leaves, but very few strawberries.

But I was happy they were happy and decided to be patient and dedicate one year to propagation and the next to fruition. The problem was winter. Our plastic greenhouse isn’t heated and I didn’t think they’d survive.

We’d taken down the old garden hut and I eventually got round to constructing a cold frame using the wood, the window and the long triangular door hinges. In went some netting, some more compost and soil – and in went the strawberries.

It rained all autumn and all winter when it didn’t freeze. I’d get on the Mac and the wellies and lift the lid, sometimes covered with snow. And there they were, surviving, snuggled into the soil with the wood between them and the weather.

Come the spring I was opening the lid more, to let the air circulate and let the sunshine in. Occasionally I’d water them, especially along the edge nearest the hedge that gets less rain. I was happy to see that, while there were still some shoots like last year, there were a lot more flowers.

Now in the summer the lid is mostly open, unless it’s very windy, to let the pollinators in and I can see lots of wee berries starting to form. I might have to put some netting up eventually, or the birds will eat the lot.

Even if they do, I’ve learned a lot from those once struggling and now thriving plants. As a fulltime carer trying to fit in 3 PT jobs with far too much time on social media (cos there’s always a crisis) I sometime just wander out into the back garden seeking serenity. And as my eyes, tired from lack of sleep and too much screen time, rest on the green leaves and little white flowers, I find it.

It strikes me that they needed so little in order to survive and that, once they got that, they managed to thrive.

This year in Scotland a lot of berries won’t be picked, as Brexit has put paid to the migrant workers who usually harvest them. This year in Scotland, for the very first time, refugees (even with limited leave to remain) were allowed to vote. In time, hopefully, we may get to the point of allowing anyone seeking asylum to work legally.

Sometimes intervention is necessary. There are situations where that makes the difference between life and death. Then there’s a period of adjustment to new conditions and that may involve some protection or support. But life is ingenious and finds ways to thrive.

People, like plants, just need some shelter to flourish.

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