Without any planning on my part, I notice that our household has shifted its focus from the kitchen to the garden, just as the days themselves are lengthening and shifting towards the long, hot Sydney summer.
My own time in the kitchen is becoming more perfunctory. No more stirring of the porridge pot at breakfast time, and casserole season is definitely over. It’s still cool enough to bake though, and a glance at last year’s notes remind me it’s almost the right time of year for our bread and swimming mornings – mixing a dough and leaving it to rise while we walk to the pool for a swim, then baking the loaf and enjoying a lunchtime feast when we return.
The right season also for a trek to the Farmers’ Market in the city, choosing new breads to try – a sourdough spelt, lemon myrtle, a six fruit loaf. The rhythms of breadmaking nourish us, the unhurried process of mixing and kneading and proving and baking seem to predict and guide us towards the languor of summer.
Breadmaking aside, we’ve turned our attention outdoors. Our garden is certainly no Sissinghurst – it looks like what it is – a well-used patch of ground, messy, a place to get our hands dirty, to soak up the extra minutes of light.
It’s a place for a small boy to dig, sometimes just for the pleasure of mud, sometimes (Time Team inspired ) in search of artefacts, or in quest of ‘gold’. It’s a place for ravens and cats to stalk, for herbs to straggle, for strawberries and lettuce and sunflowers and a worm farm to survive my inconstant gardening.
A place to sit ( by the small magnolia, who has so pleased us since moving here with its buds, its waxy flowers and now its summer greenery ) and plan or read aloud a poem or two.
The garden is leisure but also lesson. The child’s ear, in listening to the wind in the trees or the raucous call of cockatoos, learns to pay sustained attention. Her hands, in weeding or sandplay or digging, develop for their indoor task of writing. Eyes refocus and refresh. Bones strengthen.
I’m writing to remind myself. It’s so easy to see a garden’s faults – too small, weeds between the pavers, a worn lawn ( more straw from the guinea pigs’ hutch than grass ). We’ve made do with less in the past – a window box, a suitcase of sand on the balcony, a nearby park, tomatoes in a downstairs pot. Even now, our outdoor space is as imperfect as all my homeschooling endeavours are.
In my mind’s eye I see a garden of native plants, a frog pond, a vegie patch, a tree house. I open my eyes and resist that scold, Perfection. The season sends us out to play.
For anyone interested in breadmaking, Baking Bread with Children by Warren Lee Cohen ( Hawthorn Press 2008 ) is an inspiring and practical read. This book is a unit study of its own!