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
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?