Tales from Titch­marsh

Some gar­den­ers start to wind down in later life, but Alan’s not ready to lament his au­tumn years – not while he’s still en­joy­ing sum­mer

Gardeners' World - - Contents -

I now find my­self en­joy­ing my wild­flower meadow ev­ery bit as much as the more in­tri­cately con­structed beds and borders

Have you ever no­ticed that older peo­ple (I’m not be­ing at all age-spe­cific here, for rea­sons of tact and diplo­macy) seem in­tent on a kind of life laun­dry? They be­gin to di­vest them­selves of pos­ses­sions that once seemed so im­por­tant but which they now re­gard as of lit­tle con­se­quence. We don’t re­ally need what a friend of mine calls ‘stuff’. Those ac­qui­si­tions now as­sume a more mi­nor role in a life that has come to re­gard spir­i­tu­al­ity and day-to-day con­tent­ment as be­ing more im­por­tant than a store­house of goods and chat­tels. The same seems to hap­pen with gar­den­ers as they age. Not nec­es­sar­ily in terms of dis­pens­ing with tools and equip­ment (though af­ter so many years one comes to un­der­stand that a spade, a fork, a rake, a hoe, a trowel, a pair of se­ca­teurs and a pair of shears are just about all one needs to keep a gar­den go­ing), but in the style of gar­den­ing that ap­peals. I have no­ticed re­cently that one or two doyennes of the gar­den­ing world have down­sized from their stately acres and seem per­fectly con­tent with a smaller patch in which their ap­proach can be more lais­sez-faire than prinked. This could be due to the diminu­tion of en­ergy that comes with age, but the ladies in ques­tion are, I sus­pect, hardly de­void of funds, so could eas­ily buy in help. No, it is the mind that changes and finds it­self more read­ily stim­u­lated by sim­pler plea­sures, which is a long­winded way of say­ing that I now find my­self en­joy­ing my wild­flower meadow ev­ery bit as much as the more in­tri­cately con­structed beds and borders in my gar­den.Is this the onset of old age? It would be fu­tile to deny such cir­cum­stances since my next birth­day is the one at which I reach my bib­li­cally al­lot­ted span. Scary, eh? Al­though I tell my­self that it is noth­ing more than a num­ber, and that my gen­er­a­tion is men­tally and, I like to think, phys­i­cally younger by at least a decade com­pared with my parents’ gen­er­a­tion, there is still an un­der­cur­rent of un­ease about this sit­u­a­tion, how­ever many peo­ple tell me that it is bet­ter than the al­ter­na­tive. Yet, walk­ing through the meadow I sowed around 10 years ago from buck­ets of seed, I feel a great flush of pride and a feel­ing of calm. The vi­sion changes al­most daily from March on­wards. “Where have all the cowslips gone?” a friend of mine en­quired. “They are all in my meadow,” I re­sponded, for the sward is as bril­liant as a field of oilseed rape in April, so thickly do the pale-yel­low bells jos­tle one another. Brighter yel­low birds’ foot tre­foil fol­lows, with yel­low rat­tle, then mar­guerites or moon daisies push­ing up among the taller vetches. June and July bring pale-blue field scabi­ous and the knap­weeds – greater and lesser – and the pur­ple colour­ing in­ten­si­fies as the sum­mer pro­gresses with a plump rug of mar­jo­ram. When the sun be­gan to shine week af­ter week in June, the but­ter­flies emerged in quan­tity – meadow browns and gate­keep­ers at first, along with the large and small whites that gar­den­ers detest among their bras­si­cas but which seem like flut­ter­ing rose petals in a meadow. Then come small tor­toise­shells, com­mas and the black-dap­pled mar­bled white – the pale-yel­low brim­stones act­ing like ring­mas­ters from March un­til au­tumn, in­tro­duc­ing red ad­mi­rals and painted ladies. Af­ter sev­eral lean sum­mers, it was good to see them back in num­bers and to watch the blues – holly and com­mon – flit­ting like chil­dren at Christ­mas, pre­sented with too many trea­sures to hold their at­ten­tion for more than a few sec­onds. I can sit and watch my meadow for min­utes (it would be easy to say ‘for hours’ but, like the blue but­ter­flies, gar­den­ers can­not sit still that long), and then I re­pair to my gar­den to ad­mire the fat dumplings of ‘Annabelle’ hy­drangeas and tow­er­ing elec­tricblue ‘Pan­dora’ del­phini­ums, along with cas­cades of pink ‘Gen­er­ous Gar­dener’ and ‘Constance Spry’ roses on the house wall, and chas­tise my­self for be­ing un­faith­ful and leav­ing them to ad­mire the na­tive wild­flow­ers. So, per­haps I’m not yet quite ready for the gar­dener’s life laun­dry. The meadow fresh­ens me up for the gar­den and vice versa. But, wa­ter short­age apart, was there ever a bet­ter sum­mer to be a gar­dener?


Septem­ber 2018

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