Spring Gardening & the Politics of the Workhouse:

One gardener’s eccentric philosophy.

Image: Bluebells.

Bluebells in my garden

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Isn’t it wonderful to see the trees and the hedgerows turn green again in spring? All winter, between bouts of clearing away the wreckage of my workshop wrought by a succession of storms, I have been working on a re-edit of Sunset over Salhouse Broad for its forthcoming release in paperback. But recently, with the return of the sun and the slow draining of floodwater, like millions of my fellow citizens I found myself out in the garden tidying winter’s ravages and fettling the lawnmower, that tyrant of summer Sundays. Call me eccentric, but though I am always glad to put the mower away in autumn and enjoy a few months relief from the tyranny of ever-growing grass, I am just as glad to dig the thing out again in spring. It makes its annual debut in the garden along with the daffodils, soon after the snowdrops have wilted and nature spurs me to threaten the pink climbing rose with its annual haircut.

In my garden I am God… kind of. At least, I am in control to the extent that I do not feel obliged to suffer anything that displeases me in my garden. Beyond that, I have to admit I’m a rubbish gardener. I occasionally watch Monty Don on the TV and lap up the wit and wisdom in BBC Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time, usually whilst painting my boat and daydreaming of when I might have leisure to pursue the sport of gardening more seriously. But the truth is that I lack the vision to plant flowers in tasteful arrangements.

Fettling the lawnmower and contemplating that annual hair cut for the roses and the acacia bush and the several other nameless and innocent things that chose my garden to plant themselves, I imagine them quaking at my approach with snapping secateurs. In terms of expertise I am limited to chopping off bits that stick out and make a pain of themselves, rather than following any formal scheme of pruning. My lawn is as green as I like it to be, but riddled with moss, which I excuse as the consequence of living in a boggy river valley coupled with a succession of long, wet and dreary winters.

But I can and do grow veg. I favour the simple staples of peas and broad beans, potatoes, onions and tomatoes; the things my parents regularly grew and from whom I suppose I gained my preferences. Last autumn I even made blackcurrant jam and a gallon of elderberry wine to cheer me through dismal, brown, leafless winter. The WI would be proud of me.

Better than a Government Promise

Almost certainly I could buy these basic items more cheaply in the local supermarket, but that’s not the point. My token glance at self-sufficiency is a great comfort. The ability to grow your own food is a better safety net than any government promise of benefits or pension, which can evaporate at the drop of a banking crisis. So long as I have my garden I can always grow another crop of veg. And when I’m too old and crank to do that then please let me die as nature intended. Like my grandmother, I have a deep seated dread of The Old Folk’s Home.

Work, work, work…

Meanwhile, the government tell us that because we can expect to live longer than our grandparents we must also work more years in our lifetimes. The generation that will follow mine must work on perhaps to age 70 or more. But I find this strange. I heard a remarkable statistic recently, to the effect that productivity has more than doubled in my lifetime. That suggests to me that we can now produce enough of everything we need during a working lifetime to last through a retirement almost as long again. Doubtless the bean counters can demolish my simple, romantic view of the world with their wretched numbers, but I cannot help thinking something has gone badly wrong with the system. Whipping the stiff-jointed elderly to work when we have nearly a million unemployed under-25’s seems to me the politics of the workhouse.

Still, the trees are green again, the cattle are out frisking in the fields and we can look forward to another summer. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

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