Tender plants

This year in County Antrim, Spring has been wonderful, with a welcome introduction of freshness and colour. Yet she seems to be a little on the reluctant side when it comes to giving way to the warmer days of Summer. Ours is a northerly clime, but even here, the sunnier days feel cool, and we have experienced cold nights followed by sharp and unseasonable ground frosts in the mornings. As May continues, many of us are hoping for just a little bit more heat. Our gardens are waiting patiently for even a modest lift in the temperatures, just to take the edge off things.

In a moment of brave optimism a few weeks back, thinking ahead no doubt to the joys of the great British picnic, and cherishing hopes of al fresco barbeques and lunches on the patio, I invested in some strawberry plants. It was as if by purchasing them I could somehow speed things along; a personal invitation for Summer to arrive. I planted them out in a little herb bed I’d been creating, in the same spirit of hopeful anticipation. But as the cold nights continued, I realised I’d have to look after these plants quite carefully if they were to have any chance of surviving at all. So I covered them in garden fleece at night time, to fend off the frost, and each day I’ve tried to be attentive, giving them the food and the water they need. I really want my strawberries plants to thrive.

In my professional life, this time of year brings a focus on supporting student teachers as they start off in the early days of their teaching careers. This semester my work with these student teachers, and the teachers in the schools who host them, has been virtual. Over the course of the past week, I have been reminded vividly that there are certain conditions in which I know that our student teachers can begin to find confidence, and grow. Some of the more experienced teachers that I have encountered are particularly skilled in providing these conditions. To grow well, plants in our gardens need warmth and sunlight, they need a supply of the right nutrients, water, and air. Similarly, in order to find their feet and begin to thrive in their work with children and young people in the classroom, student teachers need, in addition to correction when necessary, and guidance and advice, a number of particular ‘ingredients’. Together, these vital ingredients offer conditions that can bring about healthy growth: they are the generous gifts of acceptance; time; encouragement; and, last but not least, kindness. In short, student teachers, just like the plants in my garden, will develop best when they are nurtured.

I’ve been reading the Old Testament book of Proverbs recently. This is a kind of anthology that brings together different collections of Hebrew proverbs and reflections on life. It is part of the genre of Biblical wisdom literature. This book offers a wealth of practical advice for everyday living; advice that is helpful and often challenging. Many of the wise sayings it contains promote the kind of nurturing attitudes in life that we have been thinking about. Here are a few that I have noted:

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12 v 18

“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Proverbs 11 v 25

“Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16 v 24

Have you found refreshment in the words and attitudes of other people? Have experiences like these helped you grow? Encouragement and kindness are powerful. Their contribution to the balance of conditions for growth in plants, and also in people, is invaluable. We all need to be nurtured in order to grow.

This week holds out the possibility of being a better one, more beautiful and ultimately more fruitful, if we choose to nurture, not only our houseplants and our gardens, but the people we live with, and work with, and meet.

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