National Allotment Week

All gardening is landscape painting.

William Kent

Last week was National Allotment Week in the UK. It’s therefore right that my Reflection is on gardening.

I’m no gardener. I didn’t inherit that gene from my father, who attentively tended his garden. He primarily grew vegetables. Potatoes, leeks, sprouts, parsnips, carrots, beans, peas etc. He limited his flower gardening to bulb chrysanthemums and sweet peas. In terms of fruit, it was raspberries, blackberries, and gooseberries.

His pride, however, were his tomatoes. Whereas children these days take chocolate or some other treat as a thank you to their teacher. At the age of seven my gift to my class teacher, Mrs Hissett, whom my father knew, was a bag of his tomatoes. My recollection was of her usually stern face breaking into a beaming smile, so I guess he was good at growing them.

He took scrupulous care of them in his large greenhouse. On one occasion while he and my mother were away for a weekend, he charged my then teenage sister with the tomatoes’ welfare. It was early in the season and the nights chilly, so he used a paraffin heater to keep them cosy. He left careful instructions as to the lighting of the heater and the size of the flame needed. Alas, my sister didn’t quite follow the instructions, discovering many of the tomatoes covered in fine soot in the morning. Unfortunately, she and I could not wipe off all the soot before his return, much to my father’s disappointment. He was not slow to anger (a gene I inherited), so his disappointment with my sister was very ‘direct’.

Until I left the Northeast in 1974, I used to help him in the garden on Sunday mornings. Yes, even in my teenage years. And even if I had enjoyed a ‘heavy night’ before. I much enjoyed those hours together in conversation. He offered much sage advice on gardening, yet I didn’t catch the gardening ‘bug’.

I suspect my father’s interest in gardening came from the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign through the Second World War. That time when the Government exhorted all to turn any bit of land into a vegetable patch. Yet, it seems the British were gardeners even in Roman times. Having said that, it was a separate set of Brits. Those first gardeners were the Celtic British that the Anglo-Saxons saw off after the Roman Empire fell. But somehow, gardening infected those new ‘British’ or, more accurately, English. Gardening in Britain really took off in the 1600s and led to the likes of Capability Brown. Then it was the landed gentry cultivating their ornamental gardens. Which, by the 18th-century, saw British garden design influencing those of other nations.

It may once have been a wealthy persons’ ‘sport’. But it does seem that cultivating your own bit of land does fall naturally into the British psyche at every level. Even I gave gardening a go after buying my first house. I stuck to vegetables and had some success, but deep down, I knew it wasn’t really for me. I was simply echoing my father’s interest.

Gardening, therefore, fell to my wives who were far more green-fingered than I. Our garden today is a testament to the efforts of my wife. We’ve lived in our current place for close to three years. In that time my wife has transformed the garden beyond all recognition from that which it was. It’s a profusion of flowers and plants of all diverse types and varying colours. A living van Gogh painting at times. Bees certainly appreciate her efforts as early mornings in summer one hears a constant background of buzzing as they go about their work. I can’t name many of the flowers, but I know the Bee’s particularly like the lavender plants outside our front door. Bees of every size and shape compete for the pollen. And the butterflies too.

As well as the flowers, my wife grows raspberries and strawberries. There are also apple, pear, cherry, and plum trees. Right now, we are enjoying the fruits of the latter.

I suspect I just don’t have the patience to be a gardener, or the attention needed to keep things in good order. It’s not a thirty-minute a day job, that’s for sure. So, my hat off to all the gardeners out there. I trust those who have allotments enjoyed ‘their’ week.

This week’s music just must be this, the Waltz of the Flowers, from Tchaikovsky’s well-loved ballet, The Nutcracker. Close your eyes and imagine the dance of those beautiful flowers.

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In the Renaissance period of my post-career life …

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