It’s been back to reality with a vengeance. The noise of Mexico City and the peace of Tulum seem an age away: hard to believe I’ve only been back a week. Life in the office has been… how can I say?… intense. The briefest trip to Dorset on Wednesday night; back on Thursday afternoon; a lot to do in London, and then of course, yesterday and today, great fun in the shop with our manic clearance sale. It was so good to meet so many customers, and have hiliarious chats, and for Bridie and I to watch the occasional shopper who would spend 45 minutes stalking a £1 item, but then decide, I guess, that it was not quite for them… and we were thrilled to say that the £1 china table started completely laden and ended at 5pm this afternoon completely empty! Our kind of sale. Everyone loves a bargain. And Bridie, Sophie and I just love a clean and tidy stock room. So I hope we’re all very happy!
How do you spend your dark January evenings? For me, there is no greater pleasure than…
…. well, how can I put it…
reading the plant and seed catalogues. They all arrived just before I left and now it’s time to luxuriate in the promise of warm spring evenings and hot summer days; of the first bite of a new potato, the first broad beans, or peas picked straight from the pod; of abundant courgette plants; sweet corn like you can never taste it from the shop; of a limpid, blowsy flower border gently glowing white in the late dusk of a July evening.
Yes. The catalogues have arrived. There’s nothing quite like it. No hint here of a disappointingly wet spring, or a slug infestation, or a ghastly summer drought, or some other weirdness that attacks all the potatoes or curls the leaves of your rhubarb or means that the asparagus doesn’t produce at all. I can’t help feeling that the catalogues are like the worst form of saccharine religion; pay your dues, dig and work, believe in us… and it will all be okay.
But believe I do. And there’s nothing more spectacular than to dream of high summer in the darkest coldest wettest weeks of the year.
You see what I mean?Such combinations! Such crazy colours! Such Lurid, busty photographs, and astonishing descriptive text, and shiny paper… the equivalent of, well…. they are little shy of a certain variety of postcard that you might find stuffed into Phone boxes around and about the centre of London. Garden …porn.
My favourite of all, of course, is when a bit of optimistic photoshop gets rather too carried away:
I badly want some ornamental beds of Impatiens Sun Harmony Mixed, don’t you? Well, frankly, I’d like some turrets too.
Of course, if you’re after a classier show, there is no better place to turn than our friends over at Sarah Raven. An entirely different story!
I remember years and years ago, when I lived in Norfolk, and first really started gardening, finding Sarah’s book on ‘The Cutting Garden’. It was a revelation. I doubt there are quite that many gardening books from 1996 that are still in print, but you can buy your copy today. I love it, and still refer to it often.
One of these days I’ll dig out my ancient photographs of my first gardening attempts in Norfolk and write about them. Rather influenced by The Cutting Garden.
For now, though, while we’re dreaming our way through the dark nights, I had a fun time looking back over a few years’ of photographs at the O. P. garden, and especially the vegetable patch, and seeing how things ebb and flow, and take shape. It started as a lawn and has ended up as something a little mad. Just planted the tiny box hedges around the newly-laid terrace.
A lovely weekend with Bridie, early days at the Parsonage – right around this time of year, I guess five years ago now. Not much changes!The crazy process of applying a first round of rich organic manure. Half way through the first summer. First dahlias.
And by last summer, it was getting a bit out of control. One of the tasks this winter has been to make the beds deeper and give all the plants a bit more breathing room. I’m not quite sure why I always plant everything too close together. But I can’t help it. Late summer last year.
If I’m honest about gardens, what I think I love most of all is that sense of the idea over the reality; the passage of seasons, and the inevitable optimism involved in planning your path now for results in six months time (as much as autumn planting time of spring bulbs is what carries one, mentally, in a single leap through winter). I’m even more in favour of growing vegetables than actually getting around to eating them. What is that about? The power of the garden aesthetic, maybe? I’m not entirely sure, but it is true. I will admit that a lot ends up on the compost heap…
There’s a scene in a book that I read, I guess, when I was about 13 or 14, that affects me still: Neville Shute’s On The Beach, where the young Australian protagonists, knowing that the fallout of nuclear war in the the northern hemisphere is inexorably blowing south, still go ahead and plant a garden full of daffodil bulbs… certain that they will never see them themselves. There is a poignancy in that moment that I still remember. The long, slow, cyclical ebb of gardening, where nothing is fixed, nothing is instant, everything is part of a continuum, and in a strange way does not belong to us or to this moment at all.
That’s what I love about these dark days with the seed catalogues. Do you know what I mean?