Time for gardening?
One of the reasons that I realise I must be getting older, is that I have found myself getting interested in our garden. So far as I know, it is only a very few rare horticulturalists who have any time for gardening between the age of about 10 and about 50.
Most young kids show a short flurry of interest, whether it's growing a broadbean in a jar or being allocated some hankerchief-size plot next to the family dustbins. But it tends not to last. Single broadbeans might be easy to germinate, but they are pretty unrewarding, once you've got the point. And, aged nine or so, your own plot is normally a disaster. I remember giving it up in a huff when I discovered that ground elder took more to eradicate than just snipping it off with a scissors at ground level.
For much of the next four decades, I took the same basic line. I remember when the kids were little occasionally devoting a few hours on a Sunday to a major weeding operation. It always felt like even less rewarding housework than cleaning the bath. That's to say, it was never ever DONE. Even if you have better weeding techniques than you had when you were nine, as soon as you reach the end of the garden, you can almost see the ground elder popping up again where you first started. Like the Forth Bridge but worse.
When we moved to a bigger house with a slightly bigger and quite well tended garden, we enjoyed a few months of winter reprieve (thank god for winter, the weeds hibernate, I used to think). But then the same thing happened all over again, and we gave up the unequal struggle and got some help. But it was still more damage limitation than gardening.
It wasn't until I got to the dangerous age of 55 that I began to be converted (the husband was a little older, but it was the same sort of light on the road to Damascus for him too). A down to earth, practical and inspirational garden planner (thanks Charles, that's you) told us very nicely that we were simply mad in neglecting our garden.
We could actually enjoy it. We could sit out in it. We could eat there. We could even work and read. And he set out on a transformative and actually fairly inexpensive exercise, which made something approaching an oasis out of what had been a desert (a process now continued, let me confess, by the nice people from Green Man).
Now, OK, it will be obvious that I'm not actually devoting many hours of the weekend, back on my hands and knees tending the soil. But I have changed my attitudes and inclinations in some quite striking ways. I find myself sometimes hoping for rain (does anyone under 50 ever greet a downpour with the thought "at least it'll be good for the garden"?). And when the sun goes down, if there's been no rain, I'll pull the watering hose out and give the plants a good drink. I find myself particularly keen to tend the runner beans (Sure the harvest will be only enough for a plateful, but it will still be ours -- you can see their flowers peeking out on the right, growing up the little obelisks). And we've not only acquired some garden furniture, but the husband had some external power sockets installed, so the laptop need never want for fuel, even outside (brilliant move, garden office shown above).
I've also started to work out which plants are which. The fact is I've always been quite good on wild flowers, having been brought up in the countryside to tell my ragwort from my stitchwort, my greater from my lesser celandine. But beyond dahlias and chrysanths, I didn't use to be much good on the garden variety. I'm getting better though. I can spot a lavatera and a sedum, and I can tell a magnolia from a magnolia stellata.
But most striking of all, just occasionally when Gardeners' Question Time comes onto Radio 4 I dont actually turn it off. How elderly is that?
And how rather nice too?
(Hope you enjoy the pics of the plot -- they make it looked rather posher and larger than it actually is!)