But then you see the poppies, a disheveled stand of them. And the sun shining down like God, loving all of us equally, mountain and valley, plant, animal, human, and therefore shouldn’t we love all things equally back?
‘Poppies’ by Jennifer Grotz
The Dutch have a high inclination for horticulture, in fact, a love that expresses in their lush yards and extends to colourful fields and urban parks all across town. There are pavement gardens in many streets, with a variety of plants and bushes growing in every other sidewalk, from pots, hooks, tiny beds, and climbing up facades.
I started writing this piece one month ago, while still confined at home. Then my laptop’s charger died, bla, bla, drama, bla, but hey, I’m back now. Movement had been prescribed by my oncologist as a vital component of my recovery. Before the pandemic I did yoga every day at the studio but, since I don’t love home-alone practices, walking seemed the only viable option for me not to become a vegetable.
It was early Spring and I marched. Until then I had never quite enjoyed walking in Amsterdam. I dismissed it as ‘too flat’ a landscape which was another way of saying boring. In my mind, Amsterdam was made for cycling, period. Turns out, mine and the neighbouring blocks offered me more opportunities of wonder than I had expected. It all started with flowers, of all things.
I wrote then: “Limited as we currently are in our sources of amusement, the natural world gained a whole different appeal. In The Netherlands, our semi-lockdown still allows us the freedom to go outside for walks and cycling, and parks remained open too. With cafes, gyms and shops closed, the streets stripped of human activity, flower-spotting has become my current favourite hobby”.
I did not grow up in a garden of Eden. In Portugal, city people deal with nature surfacing as a nuisance; backyards get cemented because “it’s practical”, trees get brought down to make space for parking lots. The world of Botanics always felt astonishing to me because I grew up relatively estranged from it. But in this city, everyone has their little piece of Eden in their balcony, at their front door or on the pavement across. So Amsterdam introduced me to flowers. When they’re not inside people’s home, they’re outside, everywhere. It is here that I’ve learned to like tulips and roses, to distinguish cherry-blossoms from magnolias, and that I got curious about narcissus, anemone, lilies, jacinths, freesias. It was here that Spring gradually became my favourite season.
Amsterdam intertwines urban landscapes and nature like no other, offering us the gift of revelling in life’s most straightforward of pleasures. Colour, shade, fresh air, connection with something greater than ourselves. The world may be upside down but flowers will bloom. Nature mimicking the process of renewal I felt was going on inside of me too. I felt human, even if isolated. Proof of it: all the photos saved on my phone where I’m selfing myself with flowers.
The absence of distractions enabled me to finally see, in fact rejoice in what has always been there, every Spring of my life, every Spring of life before I was. With every leaf a miracle, said Walt Whitman of lilacs. The return to simplicity was perhaps the greatest gift that this period has brought me. I haven’t yet learned to plant and grow miracles but that should be the next step. All of you experienced gardeners, feel welcome to share your thoughts and tips with me.