To Know a Place

We went on a road trip down to Eshowe (Zulu for ‘place of waterfalls’), the rural countryside town where I was born, to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday with my family this past week. It was a special occasion. I am grateful we got to honour this incredible woman and celebrate the milestone she reached in her life.

It was also refreshing to reconnect with wild and familiar spaces whose terrains are carved into my veins. There’s something soul nourishing about feeling connected to a place, to the land. It’s a comfort to know a place, to know its ways, its history, its patterns and its needs, the same way we know a relative or friend.

My grandmother’s garden inspires me each time I visit. Right now at the end of winter, her flowers were in full bloom – azaleas, camellias, moonflowers, lavender, wisteria and roses. They’re all so breath-taking. Her sage, rosemary, myrtle and parsley is growing abundantly despite the severe drought the area is facing. The papayas were sporting tiny yellow flowers too. Coming from my dry winter region, I found it difficult to believe there was a drought. But dryness is normal in the Highveld where I live, not in Eshowe. I guess the effects of the drought are noticeable to someone who knows the place. This thriving subtropical region was not as green as usual. It was way colder than usual too. Even though my gran’s garden is in bloom, not all the flowers were as big and lush as usual either. And when we went on an outing to the local dam, it was almost half the size it was when I visited two years ago. I found myself standing in dry earth that once lay beneath the waters.


The day we went to the dam, a cold front blew in from the coast. The icy wind pelted our bodies and dark clouds blanketed across the sky, but no rain came down all day. It felt so strange to see all that moisture overhead knowing how much the earth needs. It seemed almost cruel to tease the earth that way. It eventually rained in the small hours of the morning. I was happy to wake up to the sound of a fleeting rain shower, enough to soak the Earth, although not enough to make a significant impact.


My grandmother saw the rain coming days before it arrived. She said that the rain was unusual. It was too early for rain, she said. She would know. When you live in the place for 80 years, one must learn to read the stories of the land and know the weather as intimately as the lines on your own palm.

Living embedded within the landscape continues to enrich my understanding of the seasonal rhythms and cycles of the old Celtic festivals. I can directly feel when it’s time to be digging and delving, gathering herbs and tatties or sitting quiet before the hearth, dreaming the while. The Earth Mother transforms herself amongst our hills, rises young and fresh with the drifts of snowdrops, offers up a bountiful harvest and then rages as Cailleach, rattling the windows and washing away the road. ~ Kate McGillivray


When we left on Tuesday morning, my gran gave me her shears and said I should take as many cuttings as I want. She is an expert at growing things from cuttings. I harvest a bunch of lavender flowers to dry for tea and rosemary for cooking. Hers are so much more healthy and bountiful than my small little bushes in my garden. Then I took some camellia, moonflower and soft pink azalea cuttings. I forgot about the wisteria, perhaps I’ll do that next time. I know that I could get them at one of the many nurseries in my city, but there’s just something special about bringing cuttings from home. Cuttings taken from plants that may be more than 30 or 50 or 60 years old, plants that were planted in my mom’s youth and that were around long before I was born. It gives me a connection to the place that I come from and to the people whose hands and hearts tendered to those plants over the years.


Already, I have rose-scented geraniums from my mom and amaryllis from my gran growing in my garden. So I’m pretty excited this new cuttings. I’m excited about this Spring in general. I feel it drawing closer and closer. I feel the garden calling to me more and more too. I look forward to working with the earth energies in this space and seeing what this Spring brings into being.