I have never really got the concept of gardening as a pleasurable leisure activity. In my last three homes there has been something which passes for a garden in London (in the first it was six foot square of concrete paving), and, because I totally get the concept of whiling away a summer evening in the garden with a bottle of rose, occasionally I had to make some kind of an effort, even if it was just to clear a pathway between the door and the table. But it was always very much a household chore, up there with washing the kitchen floor on my list of preferred ways to spend a weekend.
But this year, something strange has happened. Perhaps it is simply the early onset of middle-age, or perhaps the influence of reading books by Laetitia Maklouf who is basically the Nigella of the gardening world (and the title of whose first book I’ve borrowed for this blog post), but I now do have a sneaking interest in my garden, and have actually enjoyed spending time working in it.
Last week my parents came down to spend a few days, and my dad, who is an extremely keen gardener, brought down various seedlings which he had been nurturing in his greenhouse, and was now entrusting to me. Anna had helped him plant some of the seeds when we were in Liverpool at Easter, and she’s very proud of ‘her’ runner bean and marigold plants. My dad also took me to the garden centre – I steadfastly maintain that you don’t need a car in London, but trips to the garden centre are one of the things which do call this conviction into question. So, the result of all this activity is that in my small courtyard garden (doesn’t that sound nicer than back yard?) I now have runner beans, strawberries, gooseberries, blackberries, tomatoes, courgettes, sweet peas, marigolds, lupins, rosemary, mint, thyme, chives and sage, plus basil and parsley on the kitchen windowsill. Oh and lots and lots of geraniums, as experience has shown me that even I find it difficult to kill a geranium.
Of course when I say I have all those things, in most cases what I really mean is that I have the theoretical potential to have them by the end of the summer, should I get the next four months of watering, feeding and pest control right. If I had one, I wouldn’t be cancelling the order for the organic veggie box just yet. But I am pretty excited about the potential.
I’ve been going out several times a day to check how everything’s doing, and carefully feeling the soil to check moisture levels. The torrential rain and gale-force winds of the last couple of days have upset me not just because of my pledge never to wear my winter coat again, but because of my little seedling babies, not to mention my Mediterranean herbs which like dry soil and sunshine, having to battle these unseasonable conditions. Certainly forgetting to water them wouldn’t be a problem this week.
So watch this space. I still have lots to do to create the garden space I’m now dreaming of, and I still have a sneaky suspicion that I’m always going to prefer the sitting-around-with-a-glass-of-vino aspect of my gardening life, but I am starting to see that I could get creative satisfaction from gardening as well as cooking and writing, and at least Anna, thanks mainly to my dad’s efforts, will get to see that our food doesn’t automatically come in polystyrene trays from Sainsbury’s.