I’ve put on weight the last few months – being inactive and comfort eating is a bad combination – and the last couple of weekends I have noticed how out of shape I am. I’ve been trying to get started on the garden, and my back is protesting.
When I moved into this shared terraced house in Turnham Green, the view out of the back windows was of a rectangle of uneven paving surrounded by beds of nettles, brambles, old-man’s beard and convolvulus, plus an old supermarket trolley, a hideous metal fence, and the embankment of the District Line railway... It was neglected and unloved; the soil between the wild plants was dry and bare, and everywhere was thick with fallen leaves from the three trees - two whitebeams and a big Lawson’s cypress - that dominate one side. But where the landlady saw a terrible mess, and the other tenants saw a bit of waste ground where they could have barbecues, I saw a garden.
I’ve put in a lot of work in the year and a bit since then; getting rid of the shopping trolley, clearing back a large proportion of the nettles etc (but leaving a few, because nature has her rights too, and nettles are a food plant for butterfly caterpillars), raking up all the fallen leaves and cypress bits, and putting in rooted cuttings, seeds, and things I picked up cheap in the staff plant sales at work. As well as flowers, last year I grew three kinds of tomatoes, two kinds of climbing beans, chard, spinach beet and a few small beetroots. This year I’m aiming for three different kinds of toms and three kinds of beans, and the same greens. I may try carrots, as I’ve been given some carrot seed, but whenever I mention this everyone I know who gardens says “Oooh, carrot fly!” and groans, which makes me a little nervous…
Yesterday I cleared a lot more leaves, put in my dahlia tubers and some cheap corms of crocosmia “Lucifer” from Wilko, scattered the first of a great many batches of seeds, some home-gathered and some bought, and planted the three little saxifrages I’d bought at Kew. The leaf-clearing is a back-breaking task and of course it will come around annually. Still, at least neither whitebeam nor Chamaecyparis lawsoniana drop prickly fruits. I grew up in a garden with a sixty-foot sweet chestnut, and no quantity of delicious chestnuts ever quite compensated for the vicious stab of empty chestnut husks into my unsuspecting flip-flopped feet.
My wallflowers are almost out, and the honesty I sowed last spring; there are buds on all the aquilegias I cadged off my mother (whose huge, rambling cottage/dry garden is my dream and ideal) and the orange tulips I put in are coming up well. My pots of narcissi are all flowering, filling the air with their sweet scent. The pansies I grew from seed have survived the winter and are starting to flower, and the ones I bought in when I thought mine had died are flowering like mad. My little ginkgo sapling is just opening its leaves. The kerria is flowering. Both jasmines (summer and winter) are putting on new growth, and I discovered yesterday that my little clematis has pulled through. Both lavenders are producing healthy new shoots, though I am beginning to think my purple sage didn’t make it – frustratingly, Mum’s didn’t either, so my source of cuttings has dried up. But every little bit of growth, every opening bud or flower, however tiny, lifts my spirits and tells me again that the wheel of the year turns and turns, whatever our human troubles or obsessions.
If only my back weren’t so quick to protest and seize up! I would like to spend every spare minute out there at the moment. I will look on the bright side, and say that my physical limitations mean I have to keep up with the rest of my life as well as doing the garden!...
1 day ago