Life

Harper's Bazaar (India) - - A FASHIONABLE LIFE -

JULIE MY­ER­SON

ON SWEET PEAS I think

it was my sev­enth birth­day One of those hazy, Gor­don Fraser cards: A pas­tel girl with hair that swirled around her feet and in her arms, a bunch of what looked like sher­bet but­ter­flies—pink, mauve, inky dam­son, vi­o­let—dabs of colour about to burst into flight. “They’re sweet peas,” my mother said.

Peas? The only peas I knew were the vi­o­lently green Birds Eye ones piled next to the fish fin­gers on my plate. The ‘sweet’ part made sense though. It was the be­gin­ning of a pas­sion still with me half a life­time later.

Our own gar­den didn’t have sweet peas. I re­mem­ber a bed of roses that my sis­ter fell into wear­ing just a nappy. And grass. And crazy pav­ing. I had a Vic­tory jig­saw which showed a thatched fairy­tale cot­tage whose gar­den was awash with flow­ers and I liked to imag­ine those splodges of colour might be sweet peas.

Then we vis­ited a gar­den where it looked as though some­one had been mak­ing In­dian hideaways in its vast, over­flow­ing flowerbeds: Tall te­pees of sticks with the tops tied to­gether. Ev­ery sin­gle one smoth­ered with flow­ers—but­ter­fly wings of colour, poised for flight. My heart be­gan to race. The lady had spe­cial flower scis­sors and she snipped me a bunch. Long, nakedly grace­ful stems. Mys­te­ri­ous corkscrew­ing ten­drils. Those per­fect silken blooms on top.

“Smell them,” she said. The scent took you to a place which ‘sweet’ did not be­gin to de­scribe. When I’m grown up, I thought, I’ll have a gar­den crammed with sweet peas and noth­ing else.

But for too many years my re­la­tion­ship with these flow­ers was con­fined to pulling in ev­ery time I saw a black bucket with a card­board sign by a coun­try road­side. Bunches tied with twine, crim­i­nally cheap at 30p a bunch. I’d put my money in the box and drive home guiltily with my booty.

Then my hus­band bought me a green­house. It’s prob­a­bly the small­est green­house in the whole world, but I’m proud to say that it has en­tirely changed my re­la­tion­ship with this plant: I have be­come the lady with the spe­cial scis­sors. A grower of sweet peas.

I love ev­ery part of it.Wait­ing for the rat­tly pack­ets to ar­rive in the post. Snip­ping the foil and let­ting the nub­bly black seeds roll into my hand. The tip­ping of com­post into long-saved-up loo rolls. The push­ing them in, two seeds to a pot. And the wait­ing. More than al­most any­thing, I love the wait­ing and watch­ing for those first pale shoots of green to ap­pear.

There is no more bliss­ful ac­tiv­ity than wan­der­ing into the gar­den on a sum­mer’s morn­ing to snip, to tie in, to check, and in­hale my sweet peas. Walk­ing up the stairs and catch­ing that scent on the win­dow sill. Or the hall shelf. Or the top of a chest of draw­ers. I sta­tion them wher­ever I can. I even draw a melan­choly sat­is­fac­tion from pulling the dry, whis­per­ing plants from the earth, cut­ting through the sun-bleached, rain-sod­den twine, and re­turn­ing the whole lot to the com­post heap in late Septem­ber. Only a month or so, and then I can be­gin all over again. Surely the def­i­ni­tion of a truly happy life: To have the peace and time and heart-space to cul­ti­vate some­thing through­out its en­tire mirac­u­lous life-cy­cle. EMMA DONOGHUE

ON DAN­DE­LIONS A dis­claimer:

I’m not a gar­dener. So our gar­den —our back­yard, as they say here in Canada where I’ve lived for 16 years—is just a green space I glance out the win­dow at or lounge in, depend­ing on the sea­son. Its most re­li­able splash of colour comes in April, when the On­tario snows fi­nally shrink away and the dan­de­lions come out in de­fi­ant yel­low force.

The man who put our grass in named dan­de­lions as the chief en­emy, and said it was very sim­ple: When­ever you see one, gouge out its long tap­root right away.

The prob­lem is that I love dan­de­lions. If they were dis­cov­ered for the first time now—with their pert pos­ture, daz­zling shades of gold, and abil­ity to thrive on ne­glect—ev­ery­one would go wild for them.

Kids, who have no snob­bery, gather dan­de­lions to dis­play in jam jars be­cause those gaudy heads put the sub­tle charms of other wild­flow­ers to shame. I re­mem­ber the plea­sure of pulling them apart and scat­ter­ing the petals like moist con­fetti. Play­ing with their firm, crunchy stems till they bruised and flopped, and I could slit them open with my thumb­nail to dis­cover the milky la­tex, or tie them in knots like lank rib­bons…

I rel­ish their sharp, fresh smell. Their puff­ball clocks charm me too; I show our daugh­ter how to blow once, twice, three times, to find out what time it is. I tell her about the mother plant’s in­de­fati­ga­ble am­bi­tion as she shoots out her para­chute-borne seeds on the wind. Dan­de­lions get their English name from dents-de-lion, the French for lion’s teeth (re­fer­ring to their jagged leaves). But in French they’re known as pis­senl­its, piss-in-the-beds. (We used to chase each other with dan­de­lions, scream­ing: “You’ll wet the bed!” It turns out that the roots are strongly di­uretic.) A list of their vari­ant names has the ring of a Sea­mus Heaney poem:

I love dan­de­lions with a guilty love, like other child­ish plea­sures. I fear my gar­dener neigh­bours see our scrubby yard as a source of con­ta­gion—es­pe­cially at the baked end of sum­mer, when all that’s left are the huge, coarse dan­de­lion blades.

But I take com­fort in the fact that this ir­re­press­ible weed seems to be fi­nally win­ning some re­spect. As gov­ern­ments across Canada ban pes­ti­cides, dan­de­lions are be­com­ing a vis­i­ble flag for poi­son-free gar­dens. Not only is the plant ed­i­ble in all its parts, but that deep root draws up nu­tri­ents to the sur­face for oth­ers to share, and the flower is an at­trac­tion for pol­li­na­tors such as the hard-hit bee.

None of that is why I love them, of course. Noth­ing ra­tio­nal about such a surge of spring cheer.

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