Tuesday, March 11, 2008
A little bit of what you fancy does you good
The other day at Clarendon Al turned to me and said, "There's a lot to be said for this kind of thing".
For a man who's long subscribed to the philosophy of if you can't eat it don't plant it, this was a turnaround, but not an unexpected one. The garden has become something of An Issue, at times even A Point of Contention, and once or twice sharp words have been spoken over who has failed to do what. This in turn is a cause for resentment - how has it come to pass that a place that for so long was a touchstone of my identity, one of the few rem(a)inders of a pre-child me, has turned into just one more thing to do?
Occasionally I read about the most luscious of gardens, filled with good things to eat, and apparently kept going on ten minutes a day. I've not managed that. The watering, the planning, the care of the soil eats into my time and is always managed with Nell on my hip and Lu tripping along beside me, wishing we were playing 'foot stuck'*. So we've had some nice veggies from the garden this year but aside from the peaches and zucchinis, not the bounty I'd hoped for.
But that's okay. For the moment I'm giving up my The Good Life dreams and recognising that I'm not a peasant and my family won't starve without a big harvest of tomatoes. I'm reading Jackie French again (and again, and again) and she writes that total self-sufficiency is a grim prospect; much better to grow what you want, what gives life richness and depth. Just growing anything without pressure does that for me, but the following things give me particular joy:
* towers of corn
* beefsteak tomatoes and cherry tomatoes for salads
* new potatoes for boiling and frying
* as much pesto as possible
* broad beans to eat with Morrocoan meals and in a dip with goats feta
* raspberries, raspberries, raspberries
* lots of different lettuce for salads
With these in the garden, I don't feel poor or put upon. No-one wants to skimp and when I grow my own I don't have to. So while I'll keep planting other things, it doesn't matter so much what happens with them. Because the other luxury in my life is time when there's nothing demanding to be done. And at the moment, this is in inverse proportion with the number of plants in the veggie garden.
But thing thing that got me thinking and remembering was a comment from French's website: flowers are important. It's hard to feel deprived with a big bowl of pink roses in the room. But I want the right kind of flowers. I'm not so keen on those prim little buds in pink, red and yellow; I like things overblown and colourful, generousity spilling out all over. When it comes to flowers I like an excess of gorgeousness. Al, ever the poet, put it this way: "I don't really notice it but it's nice to have some things in vases something over there". Indeed.
We've had flowers in the garden this last, rather difficult year. But I've not often made the effort to move them into the house. It's been another 'one more thing'. When picking flowers gets mixed up in a general feeling of hopelessness about the garden, the house, the washing, the grocery shopping, the general never-ending-ness of domestic tasks, then it's time to do something about how I see the garden and about how I see my life.
So it's back to a re-think. This is always hard for me as I can be a little ... rigid. But there's something liberating and exciting about letting go of old expectations and allowing new ways of being in my life and my garden to emerge. I'm thinking many big, vulgar, pink roses (which is just how I like them), poppies bobbing in happy drifts, tulips, irises and lupins and anything else that takes my fancy. I've got at least half of these things in the garden already; the trick is to remember it, and when the glass feels half empty, to fill it with flowers.
* I get my foot stuck in a rock in a tidal river and Lu rescues me from certain drowning with a reed through which to breathe and levers to move the rock. I am tearful and grateful and hail her as a hero. And repeat.