This month I have been bamboozled. The blue stocking, pearl, pashmina and paisley ladies in the Parish Council set upon me a few weeks ago as I was taking my dog, Colonel Rufus, for a walk around the village, and asked (read forced) me to open my garden to the public in order to raise money for the new church roof. I find it so very hard to say no when I am accosted in this manner by people who, dressed in a cloak of gracious, flannel flattery have the steely determination of a pack of hounds who have ensnared a fox.
I would rather be thrown to rabid dogs and have them chew my flesh in slow motion than bear the thought of my sacred kitchen garden, numinous sanctuary of peace, harmony and natural balance, being invaded by marauding busybodies, who come to pry, to snoop and to criticise with malice of forethought and mercy to none.
Oh yes, I am no fool. They may well hand over a few quid, but their eagerness to take part in this horticultural voyeur jamboree has nothing to do with wishing to preserve our ancient and crumbling village edifices. It is to do with those most impenetrable, silent and unmoveable of all British pastimes; seeing how the other half live, ranking where in the class structure pecking orders others lie and having a good peek round neighbours’ property, unhindered, unhinged and uncontrolled. I am dreading it profoundly.
In my garden there are only two things of which I am deeply proud: the food that grows there and the animals that feed within it. My kitchen garden is a thriving kitchen larder, filled with rows of chard and cavolo nero, cut and come again salads, radishes and new potatoes, leaves shooting upwards to the heavens. I grow asparagus, artichokes, cardoons and beans. All manner of peas scramble up hazel wigwams, herbs spread out of terracotta pots and tomato vines spiral their way up bamboo canes in my glass house. In the distance a wildflower meadow is a riot of swaying, chaotic native flora, all attracting swathes of butterflies, bees and moths that hum, buzz and flap well into dusk. There is no order, for the ordered garden is unnatural and banal.
The soil which I have been lovingly nurturing, composting, raking and turning is home to thousands of earth worms, some of which are eaten by the birds that come to my kitchen garden to feast also on the aphids, which in turn are also eaten by the ladybirds. From my kitchen window I can see thistles, dandelions, hog weeds, cow parsley, ragged robins and burdock. In polite society speak those are “weeds” and now I shall have to scythe them down.
I am a man for whom function triumphs over form at all times. What matters is substance, ecology and economy: your garden should feed you, and it should feed the whole eco-system too.
I care not the slightest for attractive layouts, pretty designs or feminine colours. My garden is dotted with rusty water butts, random wheelbarrows filled with manure and ancient hand tools are left here, there and everywhere. Lichen covered logs are piled under porches, old watering cans are lined against walls and my garden shed looks like a Heath Robinson shelter, filled with the detritus and cobwebs of a quarter of a century of constant gardening, plotting and pottering.
And now? Now I will have to tidy up and smarten up. I will have to put things away, go and buy flowering plants I neither need nor want and brush down and scrub up, all because these aged battle axes have hoisted their do-gooding upon me and my name is now on the “Village Garden Tour Schedule”. It is written in black and white, put through every letter box within a ten mile radius. The die is cast and I feel the hand of foreboding on my shoulder, with a breathless whispering in my ear “Run away! Run away!” A fellow gardener has advised I feign a serious and sudden illness which precludes me from all manner of social interaction, so contagious are its viral symptoms.
I now wander round my garden, deracinated from my customary quiet pleasure and patient endeavour, fired with the angry determination of one overcome by a sense of imminent judgement. I can hear the clipped vowels of my neighbours, as they peruse the grounds waving their wooden walking sticks at my dishevelled borders and my mossy brick paths. “Look, look! Thistles, everywhere!”
Of one thing I am certain. They won’t be asking me again. And thank God for that.