Imagining a day in the garden
There is no more cheering sight in springtime than the racks filled with packets of garden seeds that appear in shops. The seedsmen know the value of colour and the seed packets are a bright display amongst much that is mundane in hardware shops. Vegetable pictures are as attractive as those of flowers. Packets for artichokes are as striking as those for azaleas, those for zucchini as pleasing as the packets for zinnia.
When I was a child, the seed packets represented happy times. Dad would plant the back garden with various vegetable seeds. Rows were planned using baler twine tied between two sticks. The drill was dug along the line of the twine and the seeds were sown. Rows would be marked with sticks pushed into the ground at either end. The empty seed packet would be pushed down onto one of the sticks as a reminder what plants had been sown in each row. The colour of the packets would fade in rain and sunshine and the weather would eventually carry them away, but they would endure long enough for the seeds to become established and for the plants that were growing to become recognizable.
After an afternoon in the garden, there always seemed to be a delightful moment of standing back and looking at the day’s work, marked, as it was, by the brightness of the seed packets.
Since those days, gardening has seemed an attractive pastime, in theory. Living in a flat in west Dublin means there is no need to test the theory. Perhaps the two summers spent cutting iris rhizomes at Kelway’s Nurseries in Langport were sufficient to put me off of gardening; perhaps I have an innate aversion to anything demanding regular effort.
Theoretical gardening reached its height in the closing weeks of 1998. Preparing to move to Dublin at the beginning of 1999, I decided I was going to revive the neglected vegetable patch at the back of the house in Dublin. I bought books on vegetable gardening and pored over them (as I did with the book of elementary Irish that I had bought my children).
The attempts at the practical growing of vegetables lasted slightly longer than the attempts at getting my tongue around basic words in Irish, maybe a couple of springs, but neither lasted very long. With the building of a new rectory in 2006, the ground of the vegetable patch disappeared, so there was no feeling that the enterprise should ever be attempted again.
It is almost twenty years since I attempted practical gardening, it is a much easier activity when approached theoretically.
For the Tidy Towns in Clonmel last year I photographed an allotment off the by-pass. They had magnificent plants but were of an age a generation or even two above me.
Connecting with the time when veg growing was a reasonable budgeting exercise, something it hasn’t been since about 1972.
For myself, the last efforts in veg growing was 15 tomato plants that provided a gigantic glut at the end of the season. So much so I bought vinegar and oil to preserve them. Ended up with about 40 jars that sat on shelves for another 5 years, with nary an attempt to open one. All in all, and to put an economic metric over the endeavour, between the plants, the canes, the string, the feed, the making for a homemade green house, the jars, the vinegar, the oil and the time, I could’ve bought all my needs from Aldi wrapped them in real gold leaf and sparkly diamonds and still not have a match.
I take cover in vaguely economic arguments about economies working best when people do what they are best at!
Hmm, and my worry is we go back to the times when an Allotment makes economic sense for the poor, rather than a eccentricity for the well heeled.