Ad Code

| gardenadvice | Leaf Probably

It were the pole beans that did it. My neighbor, mid 90s, dropped an envelope filled with a small handful of dried beans that looked like they had been dipped in pink and black paint. A few months later I ate the best runner beans I have ever eaten and they came for weeks. We gave away bunch after bunch, ate more, learned to destring, and finally, when the plants looked tired recently, we let them dry out and saved the seeds for next year’s batch.

I have a restless mind and I have tried everything to calm it down. Running, meditation, yoga. Work hard, hardly work. I’ve listened to the app that’s supposed to ground you repeatedly, only to float away on a cloud of guilt for not being able to focus on it long enough. But gardening works like nothing else. I can go into the garden for five minutes and find that three hours have passed. I don’t look at my cell phone. I tend not to worry or get angry. And I can (mostly) eat the prey.

I’ve lived in rented accommodation in London for most of my adult life, never in one place long enough to be sure of weathering a seasonal cycle. Freedom was a rarity and a luxury. During the first lockdown, in another apartment without a garden, I struck anyway. On each windowsill a few herbs, mostly the simple ones, parsley and mint, but also a few tomato plants, grown from seed, surprisingly hardy on the roof of a bay window of the apartment below.

Then I fled the city with my partner, moved to a town and a small house with a garden in the back and front, once loved but largely left to its own devices in recent years. It had become a battle royale with foliage, and the winner turned out to be ivy that was everywhere. It took some work. It was a big task. And then one day we were stuck. What a simple pleasure, to have a reason to be outside whenever it was light and dry, to get muddy from digging and tired from lifting, to watch a bed being cleaned that we had struggled with over time revealed with nature’s underestimated humor that it was home to snowdrops, daffodils and tulips buried much deeper than the fork had gone.

Take a magic bean… Rebecca grew her own runners thanks to her neighbor. Photo: Mint Images/Getty Images/Mint Images RF

Finding garlic under shrubs, seeing remnants of forgotten vegetable beds, peonies, roses, crocosmia, Mexican orange blossoms all insisting they would turn up, thank you so much despite being neglected by human hands for years. Each of them was a little miracle, a lesson in resilience.

People say that bakers share by nature. I think gardeners are the same way. The neighbor who gave us runner beans also gave us spectrally light green nicotianas, baby spider plants that have since given birth to their own, a pepper plant that is now indoors and has just given up a late ripening red pepper. Another neighbor brought in cucumbers that fared much better than my own. When we were trying to put some form into the semi-overgrown front yard someone pulled out a wheelbarrow in case we needed it while someone else offered use of the container they had rented for their own garden clearance. Ah, I thought. This is what community feels like.

One should leave a garden for a year, I read, to see what’s there, but I couldn’t wait that long. I did get some pretty flowers from seed – some neon pink snow peas, Kosmos that look like fireworks (not individually known as a single “Kosmo” as I discovered when trying to show them off) – but it was the fruit and veg, mostly veg, that was the biggest revelation. In a miserable year, it was a miracle to be able to go into the garden and pick supper. The night I made garden ratatouille, all the ingredients we grew, onion, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, I felt a contentment that cheers me up when I think about it today, although most of these plants are long since then have ended up on the compost heap.

I sneak into the garden and realize that three hours have passed. I don’t look at my cell phone. I’m not worried And I eat the booty.

As a hobby, gardening isn’t cheap (to begin with, although the amount of recycling and reuse makes it easier) and it’s not fast, but it’s comforting and it’s soothing and it’s useful. It felt good to be able to give people salads from the garden when supermarket shelves were running low. It’s been my own tiny taste in being a doomsday prepper, and while I’m not sure how much lettuce will be in demand at the end of the world, it’s nice to know I could always have some Drunken Woman lettuce, if i wanted it.

It becomes all consuming. It’s getting out of control. I went to the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time this year and came back with a bag full of bulbs and seeds, mostly chosen based on what they were called and whether they looked funny. I’m working my way through the RHS Level 2 Horticulture qualification, studying soil improvement and trying to remember how photosynthesis works. But I’m still not a good gardener or a knowledgeable one. I’m a beginner, basic, learning on the side by rolling up my sleeves.

In most situations, in the other parts of my life, I can be tense. I hate it. But if I don’t know what to do in the garden, I call my mother. Their advice is often to just stick it in the ground and see. What’s the worst that could happen? It doesn’t work, you learn something, you try again. This approach has benefits far beyond the flower bed.

How it goes

That Royal Horticultural Society has a database of local gardening groups and It’s Your Neighborhood groups while the BBC has an excellent resource for people looking to set up a community garden. Have a look too Social Farms & Gardensa charity that advises, funds and educates community gardeners. The National Allotment Society gives helpful tips for finding accommodation. garden organic‘s Heritage Seed Library and seed sovereignty are good places to find unusual seeds to sow once you have your spot. If you want to visit a garden without having to dig it up, check out these National Open Gardens Program – It details notable private gardens to visit across the UK and raises funds for healthcare charities. Try Christopher Lloyd’s 1997 to get excited The well-tempered garden, is a classic that has stood the test of time for new gardeners. If you have vision but no space, try Alice Vincent’s book rootbound to hear how the author came to urban gardening. Thoughtful Gardening by Robin Lane Fox offers practical advice and adds meditative and illuminating anecdotes from art and literature. Poppy Okotchas The Earth Nutrition Handbook and website are fascinating accounts of the work of the gardener who created an edible and medicinal woodland garden in Devon.

Post a Comment


Close Menu