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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

While others fret about whether to close their Facebook accounts (Who cares? Just do it. Get a life) I am preoccupied with concerns of an entirely different nature.

Light years away from social media and the angst it has stirred up among many of its users, my focus is on the garden and, in particular, when I dare trust the combination of the weather and my unfortunately brown-tinged green fingers to get it into full seasonal flourish.

It has made it through the winter unscathed, with nothing either frozen or drowned into extinction, which is encouraging. In fact, I fear the only lasting damage in recent months has been caused by yours truly, who, in a fit of enthusiasm, was possibly too heavy-handed with the secateurs on a woody lavender.

When I admitted to Geoff that I feared I might have sent the shrub to a premature death, he sportingly suggested that it had had it coming. It had not performed well latterly, and my zealous attention had amounted to a case of kill or cure.

You’re right, I said. I had warned it last summer that its over-enthusiasm in doing all that growing with nothing nice to show for it could spell doom. It’s true that I envisaged that only being in the form of a short back and sides, so not doom in a completely doomy deathlike way.

But doomed it probably is, because my kindly meant efforts have not yet been rewarded by green shoots. Perhaps it’s waiting to surprise me and one day I’ll walk up to it, feeling guilty, and it will suddenly erupt, rejuvenated into leafy, floral life.

Above the sound of my relieved sobs, I’d be able to hear it saying, ‘I know you didn’t mean to kill me, so I’ve decided to come back but please leave me alone next time you’re inclined to get handy with the secateurs.’

During that same spate of murder in the garden, I also divided a perennial, leaving the healthier half in the bed and dispatching its other half to, let’s say, a different place. I know, it was cruel, but sometimes it can be a kindness. Happily, all seems to be progressing well with the half that was spared, so I am confident of a fine display of gratitude this summer. I mean, who wouldn’t be grateful for being given a much larger space in the bed?

I’m always just a bit later than I should be when planting out the sweet peas, but at least I’m consistent. The same goes with the annual herbs. It’s never intentional, but the spin-off is that these latecomers to the garden last longer into the season – as long as the weather plays ball, which of course can never be guaranteed.

The watering fairy has to be included in the garden survival programme, too, and so there almost always comes a time when Geoff and I say, ‘It’ll all have to take its chance. We can’t be slaves to the garden.’

Except of course we are slaves. Who, with any kind of a soul, could not love, tend and care for a garden?

Count me among the tribes of garden enthusiasts, and whenever I’m ingraining my hands with the good, composted earth in our own patch, I count myself so lucky to be out there, suffused with the joy of the outdoors, charmed by the birdlife, excited by what might or might not perform well this year – and chanting hopeful incantations over one particular lavender bush.

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It was decent of it to rain so soon after I’d achieved a load of planting in the garden last weekend. I carefully watered in the cosmos and the salvia, some herbs and a cheerful marguerite, and then the rain, so long absent, came along and topped up the water supply to these welcome newborns.

But then the clouds didn’t seem to know when they’d done enough. They carried on emptying their loads down on to us, not thinking for a minute that enough was enough. Pace yourselves, clouds! Just a little, please, and then leave us alone for a couple of days until we welcome you back again.

The trouble is, our weather doesn’t do much in moderation. It gives us a just about acceptable temperature throughout the seasons – though a few degrees warmer wouldn’t be a bad idea sometimes – but it doesn’t seem to have a ‘that’ll do very nicely, thank you’ switch for us to access.

As a consequence, from time to time we suffer from droughts, floods, wild, wild winds, frozen rivers and sunburnt livestock (not to mention humans). It’s all so extreme, when all we ask is a little moderation for our gardens – and for ourselves.

As far as our garden is concerned, any watering that’s required and that the clouds fail to show up to do for us, gets done either by Geoff or by me. In other words, it isn’t what Philip May might call a girl job or a boy job. I can’t think what is at Hill Towers, to be honest, although like Philip and Theresa’s household I guess various tasks habitually fall to one or other of us, simply in the interests of fair distribution of labour.

Things have certainly become a lot fairer around here since Geoff stopped being terrified of the iron and what damage he might do with it, and since we worked through some of his ingrained aversion to being at large in the kitchen. He irons! He cooks! (Admittedly not much of either, but from baby steps we have achieved giant strides and I do believe he feels almost as proud as I do. He’s a long way off self-sufficiency, but we are getting there.)

With our gardens thoroughly well watered this week – OK clouds, again, that is enough, do please push off – we can enjoy watching broadcasts from Chelsea Flower Show without feeling we should be outside doing a rain dance.

I’ve only been to the show once in person and while I loved it and was thrilled to be there, I found that the difficulty in moving around and actually seeing anything was severely hampered by huge crowds.

For that reason, and of course for the bother of getting there and back, I choose to stay in the comfort of my own home and watch Chelsea on the telly with Monty Don and Co.

And if I sometimes have to turn up the volume to hear them above the sound of the rain drumming on the roof, then so much the better. It has to be one of the rare occasions when a gardener can experience a little frisson of smugness.

I certainly don’t get that smug feeling very often where gardening is concerned. I might get an appreciative pat on the back sometimes for the herbs that I grow, and I am also partial to a spot of praise for the compost, which, though I say it myself, is textbook stuff.

But that’s it on my Scale of Smugability: herbs and compost. Must do better. Help me, Monty!

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It was wonderful to hear Mary Berry, the nation’s favourite baking fairy, guest-editing Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 this week.

Forthright and articulate, she totally belied her 81 years and provided entertaining, thought-provoking content for a programme that held my interest on a long car journey.

Mary is, as we know, a flawless being, utterly right in all she says and does. It is impossible for her to put a foot wrong or say a word out of place. To me, she’s the female version of another of the nation’s treasures, David Attenborough, only she has a whisk and a mixing bowl in her hands while he has snakes and frogs.

When Mary isn’t turning out a belter of a tray bake, writing a book or filming another Bake Off series, she can be found playing tennis (which she does every week), taking part in an exercise dance class (while looking at her watch and willing it to end, she admitted) and helping maintain a fabulous, family-friendly garden.

What an active life, and what a grateful soul she sounded when she thanked her good fortune in being fit and healthy enough to enjoy it to the full.

Two of the topics that she chose, with her editor’s hat on, for further exploration on the programme were modern Girl Guiding and the benefits of gardening.

She credited her membership of the Guides with teaching her practical skills that she has used throughout her life. Yes, Mary! Me too!

Couldn’t agree more, I nodded, as I inched the car past roadworks. Apart from lighting a fire (no fire-lighters in those days, Mary pointed out) and cooking on it in billy cans, she (and I) learnt about flora and fauna in the wild while hiking.

Best of all, I was thrilled to hear Mary mention how learning to tie all sorts of knots had been helpful to her through life. Yes, Mary! Me too!

Knots are in the same sort of category as Latin vocab and verbs. You can’t imagine what use they will be to you but then, bingo, you can’t imagine life without them.

Many is the time I’ve been grateful for the reliability of a quickly executed reef knot, and, of course, the invaluable quick-release slip knot. The Latin has been a trusty companion in many ways since schooldays but especially in the learning of Italian in recent years.

The gardening part of the programme was equally inspiring, concentrating as it did on the physical benefit and the spiritual high that it can offer to participants of all ages.

All states of health, too, as GP Dr Sam Everington made clear when he explained the ‘social prescription’ of gardening that benefits many patients in his practice in Tower Hamlets, east London.

Who wouldn’t feel better for a spot of gentle digging, sowing and tending in a small corner of God’s acre?

One woman interviewee, a mother of six from Sheffield, told how her life had been changed by being ‘prescribed’ an allotment. The story of her turnaround was a perfect vindication of Mary Berry’s argument that we’re all, young and old, better off being busy in a garden. And if not a garden, then get growing with a window box, she urged.

She’s not just a keen gardener herself but is president of the National Gardens Scheme, which organises open gardens around the country, so she knows about these things. Anyway, Mary’s always right – that’s one of the things that makes her such a treasure, in and out of the kitchen.

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