Boomers’ Bloomers [again]

Baby boomer:    a person born during a baby boom, especially the one in the US or UK between approximately 1945 and 1965: Ageing baby boomers are creating a greater need for healthcare. baby-boomer. adjective [before noun] › The baby-boomer generation is now hitting retirement age.18 May 2016

We ‘boomers’ are in trouble again. Not content with having had free university education, ‘good’ pensions, having the gall to buy properties and now living long enough to be using up all the healthcare budget we have transgressed further. The offence? We have failed to teach our progeny horticultural skills. There! How appalling! We should have been outside in the garden with our new-borns teaching them the difference between bindweed and broccoli instead of idly dandling them on our knees. We should have set our toddlers to weeding, hoeing and tying in the runner beans rather than reading them stories and letting them splash around in paddling pools.

Having been born and raised in the countryside I did actually learn a great deal about gardening at an early age; though not grand or modernised the properties we inhabited were always surrounded by large pieces of garden which my father tended with gusto-perhaps because he came from a family of market gardeners. The fruit and vegetables he grew were more than a supplement to our diet; together with the hens we kept they almost were our diet. Yet we were not coerced into digging and weeding and were left to our own devices, excavating our own plot behind the shed to find buried treasure and taking stray worms down to the hens’ enclosure or trawling the small stream with jam jars on strings. I do remember being interrogated as to why I’d pulled up a cabbage and explaining that it was to see if it was growing, a reply not received with indulgent approval-nevertheless it had been growing.

But I knew about gardening. I knew that you could graft one type of apple tree on to another, that potatoes needed to be earthed up, that you could make compost from garden and vegetable waste. I knew the names of things-vegetables, fruits, flowers and weeds. I also knew the names of trees and wild flowers. At school, with no danger of a ‘national curriculum’ we went on nature walks-a long crocodile of hand-holding pairs strolling the lanes and scrutinising the banks and hedgerows so that we knew which tree conkers grew on [not a conker tree!] and bringing back specimens for the ‘nature table’. I grew up able to identify common birds from plumage and song and to know a number of wild flowers, plants and trees.

Just as a garden itself cannot be made instantly you can’t ‘teach’ gardening. The skills and knowledge develop over time with trial and error and a little research now and again. The best gardens evolve-like the twenty year old patch I’ve grappled with and am about to leave. How will the next garden grow? I look forward to finding out…

 

 

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The Way the Garden Grows

                Every year at about this time I marvel at a bizarre phenomenon that occurs in the garden to the rear of our house. It expands. It definitely becomes larger each spring. I don’t understand the reason for this event-especially as the boundaries of the property do not appear to move, nevertheless every area, feature, pathway, patio, border, lawn, pond and structure has grown. I know this principally because it all takes hours longer and produces more aching muscles than the previous year and the year before that.

                I like to think I’ve got the measure of our garden. After seventeen years of designing, redesigning, trying out plants, failing, digging, planting, weeding, chopping, trimming, mowing, pruning, staking, composting and the rest I am under the illusory impression I have the better of the beast, but the reality is I haven’t got it under control at all.

                During the May holiday weekend, along with everyone else, I made my annual pilgrimage to the garden centre, a visit which never fails to provoke a feeling of optimistic fantasy. I trail around the stands of bright, bushy perennials with my trolley, scrutinising their labels and picturing them in the border; a riot of dazzling colour bursting forth and wowing the neighbours as they peer jealously over the fence, or eliciting exclamations of ecstasy from visitors. I fill the trolley. I bear the trophies home in a rush of excited enthusiasm. I set to, identifying a location, soaking the plant, preparing the planting hole, adding the compost, ladling in the food granules, settling the roots in, refilling, firming and watering. I go out each day to check.

                But it is the garden that has the last laugh. It cannot be fooled. It grows what it wants to grow, its favourite diet consisting of robust ‘self-comers’ that seed with effortless abandon or send out subterranean wires of roots that pop up anywhere and everywhere, resisting wind, frost, slugs and drought regardless. Thus I have a garden brimming with Aquilegia, Montbretia, bluebells and spiderwort-all very pleasant and worthy of their place in moderation.

                Here we are battling strong, coastal winds, salt laden air, poor, sandy soil and droughts. Once I had more time to devote to growing things I developed ambitions to grow things to eat. Knowing how unsupportive the soil is I persuaded Husband to build some raised beds, explaining that we-[I]- could fill them with rich, organic compost. The first year I was inspired to sow a wide variety of vegetables, including beetroot, asparagus, potatoes, runner beans and onions. Success was limited. The beetroot never grew beyond miniature, the asparagus failed to rear its head and the onions remained in stubborn infancy long past the time when it should have grown up.

                I still dabble with vegetables, but in a limited way. I seem to be able to produce tomatoes [provided there is any sunshine], spinach seems to quite like our gaff, and most herbs are tough enough to cope. There is only one problem though; we are almost always away in September, when  we should be enjoying the harvest. Let me see-travel or tomatoes? Fortunately there are others around to see they aren’t wasted!