FEBRUARY green blues
I have the gardening jitters at the moment. I haven’t done anything useful on the roof for so long and I’m now worried my fingers are the most faded kind of green. Last year I’m sure I had more of a plan, or I was at least full of a (perhaps misplaced) confidence that I’m seriously lacking at the moment. Looking back on photographs of the garden from last summer, the growth, the bees and the sun drenched-ness of it all seems completely unreal.
Last night I shared a gin soaked evening with a friend in a dampish basement bar decorated with peeling floral wallpaper. I drank a cocktail called the gardener’s tea break from a bone china cup. The damp air, the peeling paper, the name of my potent drink – it all seemed terribly fitting. Toying with my chintzy cup and saucer, I realised I’d been on a break for too long, indulging in London gin rather than London gardening. I need to get soily again. This weekend I’m getting serious. Compost will be purchased and planting will begin. Soon there will be seedlings everywhere and the private aerial jungle will start to grow again. Phew.
I haven’t been completely lazy, I have managed to shop for seeds. I discovered a website (alanromans.com) that sells cheap seeds and ordered in courgette, chervil, summer squash, carrots and some aura potato tubers. Last weekend the Islington Organic Growers held a seed swap at Gillepsie Park where I picked up rocket, scarlet globe radish and some everlasting sweet peas, all gloriously free of charge. My fellow seed swapper picked up an envelope of mystery seeds that asks the grower simply to take a chance. Brilliant. Gillepsie Park in Arsenal is a wonderful wilderness-y patch of green, squashed between a huge football stadium, several busy roads and many rushing train tracks. I love that London is full of little places like this one, especially when they’re 10 minutes from my house.
I’ve been in a funny situation with the roof recently. The flimsy wood and glass door that opens out onto it has been swollen and stuck shut. For a good few weeks I haven’t actually been able to get out there. My only way of accessing my garden has been by leaning precariously out of the bathroom window. From this steamy vantage point I’ve watched a grey squirrel digging through my pots and occasionally sunbathing in rare rays. I’ve also spied both male and female blackbird visitors. I know it’s not an unusual or exotic species, but I think the humble blackbird is my favourite bird. The male that visits is handsome and tuneful, and the lady plump with deliciously cosy looking soft brown feathers.
During the period when the roof became inaccessible due to swollen wood, I took myself off to the Garden Museum, which is just south and over the river from the Houses of Parliament and has an exhibition about growing your own called the ‘Good Life’ on at the moment. The museum is tiny and chilly (housed in a draughty but pretty old church) but it’s worth a visit if you like gardening.
I loved the exhibition, which charted the UK food growing movement through two world wars, deep post war gloom, 70s trends for self sufficiency and current desires to downsize and reconnect with the land. Publications like ‘Cloches versus Hitler’ by Charles Wyse made me laugh out loud. Curated in an informal, handmade kind of way, the interpretation summed up the mix of exhibits well – “curious combinations of nutrition and nostalgia, reform and romance [that] have remained important facets of growing your own throughout the past 100 years”. How excellent that food growing can be both about passion and politics.
I finally managed to open the roof door this week. Sheer brute force and many deep breaths did it. I have bulb buds and sprouts in my containers, some mystery plants in the pot where I could have sworn I planted spring onion seed, and lots of little lettuce leaves, which miraculously have survived several deep freezes and frequent dustings of ice and snow. The roof isn’t looking at all bleak considering. But it definitely needs work and love. After months of housebound hibernation, I’m finally itching to tidy and sow and nurture.
My frugal gardening plan is still in force and over the weekend I managed to acquire three large paint pots that were on their way to landfill. They’ll make great, deep containers once I hammer in some drainage holes. I have yellow and purple crocuses and expect bright yellow daffodils and dusty pink hyacinths in a few weeks time. So as February finishes I’m trying to banish my severe gardening doubts and be inspired by buds and brown feathers. I can’t wait for longer evenings and mornings full of the chaotic sounds of the dawn chorus, when song birds finally herald in the spring.