Our A Meaningful Garden guest post today is such a delight to me. Many of you will know of Tamsin's Table, the beautiful kitchen and garden based venture of Tamsin Carvan in southern Victoria.
"A shared table. A rambling kitchen garden. A hilltop farmhouse, and 113 acres. Hands on cooking workshops and joyous seasonal lunches."
It's quite funny to me to be sharing Tamsin's story with you today - a few years ago, sitting in the tea room at my research job, I pulled a story out of the local paper about a woman who had moved to a property to be closer to her food and live a life more aligned with her priorities. She had a stunning bathroom and a wonderful kitchen and nearly everything on her plate was from her farm. She got up early to milk the cow, had dirt under her nails and shelves full of summer preserved - but turned it all around on weekends to share the food and the farm, hosting long table lunches and cooking schools for others. Yep, that. Get me what she has, I thought. So I ripped out the article and it sat on my pin board buried under various other notices until I took it down when we moved. Not so long ago, I came across that article again and realised, with a start, that the woman in the article was my 'Instagram Friend' Tamsin. Funny how you can gravitate towards what it is that is really true for you, hey?
I'm not going to say anything more - I know you will adore Tamsin's words below (they rang so true for me, unsurprisingly!) and I hope that if you are nearby, you'll head out to experience it for yourself one day.
My garden is a tangly, rambling place where vegetables, herbs, fruit, flowers and berries mingle. A garden that, I have now come to accept, is just beyond the grasp of complete control...even though in my dreams it would look like Mr McGregor's perfectly manicured garden in Peter Rabbit, minus those pesky bunnies of course. I console myself with the idea that what it lacks in orderliness is compensated for by being full of secrets, and discoveries and self seeding, as well as bird’s nests, shady nooks to sit, skinks, frogs, bees and protection from the wind. The garden is on a north west facing slope near the house, which just seven years ago was a forbiddingly barren gravel turning circle and bare paddock dotted with the remains of chook sheds from generations past. Now it is wonderfully productive and all the fresh produce that we use for our lunches is grown here.
Going from nothing to something, especially to something that is itself productive, is a very rewarding and fulfilling process, but also a heck of a lot of (ongoing) hard work and my reasons for doing it are not always clear, even to myself!
There is a big, very big, aesthetic component. As I get older and reflect on my life I realise that being in an environment that to me feels beautiful has been a huge driver for the choices I've made in my life. I know beauty has a bad name, and tends to go with words like superficial, but actually I think striving for it, enjoying it, recognising it, encourages us to be a better version of ourselves. And there is a discipline of care and thoughtfulness attached to it as we see perhaps more clearly in Japanese culture than in our own. At the same time I am not at all interested in trying to conform to any standards or ideals of beauty because the kind of beauty that interests me most is things being allowed to be what they are in their best and fullest form, being full of life and expressiveness and vitality and power, which I guess is why I've always been attracted to the natural world. That kind of beauty is transformative and also has an ethical dimension - it 'unselfs' us, knocks us out of ourselves, jolts us out of the centre of things, and provides an insight into a more generous, fairer, more just way of being. There is a wonderful book on this topic called 'On Beauty and Being Just' by Elaine Scarry. Worth a read!
Another guiding principle in my life that I find I cannot compromise on is ensuring that my beliefs and actions align. Movng to this farm from a city life initially came from taking the question 'what would I have to do to eat the way I want to eat' very seriously. Perhaps a bit too seriously! But here I am, and now eating what we can produce ourselves is such a deeply embedded way of life that I forget how strongly I feel about eating food I don't trust. But it's not something I get on my soapbox about - we all do what we do for our own reasons, and I would never presume that someone else's reasons for doing what they do are somehow less valid or less rational than mine. But I do think that ensuring belief and actions align provides a good template for living authentically, whatever path you choose to take. And my garden is a big part of this for me.
Maybe this is actually an extension of my last point, but another reason I garden is its honesty. It is what it is, and it is a reflection of whatever time, effort, love, care you put into it. We put our hands in dirt, and plant seeds, and pull food from dirt, and eat it. It's a beautiful, and literally grounding, thing.
There is a meditative and therapeutic aspect for me too. In the garden I am happy, and find peace, no matter what else is going on in life. Maybe it's something to do with all those good microbes in the soil! But also occupying your body in a worthwhile endeavour frees your mind to think things through well and constructively. And noticing things, little things - seeds germinating, the breeding plumage of a superb fairy wren starting to come through - help us, as I noted above, step out of ourselves and see ourselves in a broader context.
Lastly, gardening is humbling. The more I learn the less I know, and the more the mysteries deepen. I'm always quite suspicious when people cite rules or books or say 'this is the right/wrong way to do it' when it comes to gardening...this is to me a sign that that person hasn't yet spent enough time with their hands in the dirt! Humility is a virtue, and the virtues are very interesting to me. All the virtues are things that take daily, or hourly, or minute by minute affirmation or practice; you can't just decide to be courageous and be done with it once and for all, you have to commit to being courageous again...and again...and again... That's why they are virtues, because they demand a consistent orientation and commitment to a goal or idea that sits outside the self. And this is hard! Gardening is such a good reminder of this. It forces us to practice humility every day. And maybe it will even make better people of us in the end.
Ten years ago I committed myself to eating with our Gippsland seasons and from our own land, a hilly but fertile 113 acres, knowing nothing more than that I wanted to live simply and well and play my own tiny part in ‘fixin’ things’. A decade later we have the deep satisfaction of knowing where all our food comes from, because it all comes from…here. So what will you find at Tamsin’s Table? Cooking workshops that get your hands back into the soil, harvesting and preparing ingredients you’ll cook just minutes later. Masterclasses that spring from family and community traditions, all that good stuff you can’t learn from books. And regular long table lunches to celebrate good company and the food we grow here. You can see what we’re up to here.