Gardening, like Guinness, is good for you. Gardening is a delight. Gardening is what we all aspire to in our old age. It will keep us healthy, and bendy, and occupied, but not necessarily clean or wise or comfortable.
I am lucky enough to have two gardens – one tiny one in west London, north facing, sheltered by six foot fences and landscaped to within an inch of its life. 12 feet wide and 22 feet long. Filled to the brim with fuschias, begonias, camellias and cyclamen. Hardly anything else will flourish. It also has a fountain and a pump – not working, – 8 blue china ducks brought with great trepidation over from Germany, and one little gnome, well hidden by my cleaning lady who actually does all the gardening. It did have a beautiful bird table – but the rats requisitioned it and so it had to go. They were beautiful to look at – the rats, I mean, especially the young ones, gambolling under the camellia, and munching away on the table. Squirrels galore too. The birds had no chance. Yet despite the lack of nourishment offered on a daily basis as before, magpies, jays, tits and the occasional woodpecker still visit. The robin is territorial and the blackbirds make an incredible noise, catching the early worm. There’s nowhere to sit, as the garden is too small, but there is enough going on as I look out of the kitchen window. It’s a bit like being on safari, really!
My other garden is vast, by comparison. And here comes the crunch – the problems are many and various. The lawn needs to be mown – but not by me. The weeds need to pulled – again not by me. The roses need pruning, the bulbs need deadheading, the flamingo tree needs reshaping, the Californian lilac needs tying to the fence – the list goes on. Trouble is, I don’t really like getting my hands dirty. I have a husband who does a lot of the work. We have a gardener once a month who charges a lot of money. I know I should do more myself – but, when? And how?
I want to scatter some seeds and watch the flowers grow. Each packet comes with instructions and measurements and time lapses and goodness knows what else. I just don’t have the patience. A few weeks ago, I was tempted by the colours and pictures of bees and butterflies and so I indulged in a dozen packets of seeds; I thought I would get my head round all these instructions. I read them carefully, was confused by the two rows of dates and to conquer my frustration I just tore open the packets, flung the seeds (so tiny and so fragile some of them) wildly in the vague direction of where I wanted them to blossom and hoped for the best.
“We plough the fields and scatter / the good seeds on the land”
I’m afraid I omitted the ploughing!
I don’t actually hold out much hope because although I watered the seeds once I haven’t been back to the house for a couple of weeks. Yet I am a great believer in miracles, and I hope the patron saint of gardening, whoever that is – I will look you up in a minute – will look kindly upon me – but there is no real faith . And that is the problem with gardening. It requires patience in spades and hard work and optimism in equal measures.
Dear St Fiacre of Breuil: I hope you will henceforth be my friend. Although you died in France in AD 670 I hope you will keep a watchful eye on my gardens and help me with any problems I may have! Thank you.