June 2010


A simple general rule of recycling, re-using, upcycling, or whatever you want to call it, is that the more you have of a type of object, the more likely it can be turned into something useful – for example, one walking stick is not massively useful in the garden, unless you have a gammy leg. But if you had a dozen, you could use them in a bed as quirky plant supports – all very Ivan Hicks.

Of course it may not be immediately apparent what the useful something is and this was very much the case at the weekend when I collected these plastic tubes at a party. They had contained some childrens’ toy, or other, and just looked like they could be useful – I can`t explain why. Of course this behaviour of mine drives the OH dotty.

I should also add that the orange string in the photo is an oddment I wombled from somewhere, and that wombling behaviour also drives the OH dotty.

I haven`t yet thought of a use for them. Part of a bug hotel maybe.

Something will present itself, of that I`m sure.

And if it isn’t a gardeny thing, it will be something to amuse Little Boots.

Vuvuzelas for Wombles perhaps?

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A couple of days ago, I picked up the big red watering-can which was laying on its side on one of the garden paths. For some reason I happened to look inside and found that there was a satsuma-sized toad crouched in the bottom. So I carefully placed the can on its side in a shady spot, so that the little fella could make good his escape.

The next night I picked up the can, checked it was empty and filled it from the water butt. The first sweep of watering went fine, but then it quickly spluttered to a dribble.

I had a good idea of the cause. For reasons best known to small children Little Boots has taken to removing the rose, and wombling around the garden using it as a receptacle for collections of leaves, twigs, gravel and the like. But no, the rose was empty. Maybe a snail in the spout I thought, and had a peek. Right place wrong creature – there was something small, round and pudgy blocking the tube.

I was awash with guilt. I don’t know how much pressure there is behind two gallons of water as it forces its way up a pipe, but the little toad had been jammed in place by it. I immediately tipped the water out of the top into another can and returned the red one to the shady spot. It did briefly cross my mind to dislodge the toad with a cane, but I figured it’d suffered enough, without being poked in the face, or up the bum, by a bamboo stick, so I let it be.

Of course anyone who’s ever lifted a large rock and found a toad beneath it knows they are very pliable creatures that sometimes seem to be made of putty. And so the next morning I found my warty friend, no worse for wear, albeit with a slightly grumpy expression, sitting in the bottom of the watering-can.

My earliest known antecedent was an Anglican minister during the English Civil War. We therefore grew up believing we were descended from Roundheads – a touch simplistic, but we were children. Our infant school was a Catholic one, which fell under the jurisdiction of three parishes, and so there was often a priest popping up in some class, or another. Once we had one of them in our class, talking about ancestors. Of course being children, no one knew much about their forebears beyond their grandparents. But I did, and volunteered that my ancestors were Roundheads. The priest took this to mean that they were Puritan, statue-smashing, Papist immolators – which was not a good thing. He didn’t exactly lose his temper, but gave me a fair amount of shit about it.

In hindsight I can joke that I was lucky just to get only verbal abuse from a priest, but I still think he was a wanker for doing it, even if he did have a steel plate in his head. Yes, that’s right he had a piece of metal in his napper, which was always cited as the reason why he was a bit crazy. Personally, I had always thought he was just a twat – although it would be a few years until I learned the word to describe my distain. Luckily my view of the priesthood was formed by a saintly Sicilian, who we saw much more of.  Now he was a true follower of Christ.

I hadn’t thought of old tin’ead, until last night. It may sound odd, but it was prompted by memories of little posies of flowers, their stalks wrapped in tinfoil.

Let me explain. I guess for many people in this country when they think of religion and flowers their minds go to WI battle-axes and busybodies warring over doing the flowers for Church. But that was never part of my upbringing. Instead I remember how we were always encouraged to bring in whatever flowers we could, to put in front of one of the statues of the Virgin Mary – there were about three, even though it was a small school. There was also a Sacred Heart of Jesus statue that stood in the dinner hall, which I always thought was crazy and exciting, because Our Lord’s flaming heart looked, to my young eyes, like a medieval hand grenade.

Even as a child I recall feeling that these votive gifts of little, mismatched, often bedraggled posies, with stems far too short, picked by small children, for baby Jesus’ mummy were touching. And I remember being allowed to take in a small bunch of sweet peas, their stems wrapped first in damp tissue paper and then foil. My teacher, who I loved dearly, sniffed them deeply and smiled.

All this recollection was sparked by the scent, as I snipped flowers from only the second lot of sweet peas I have ever grown.

It was a warm memory, despite Father Tin’ead clanking around in the background.

Coming indoors I waved my fistfull of scent and ghosts in front of the OH, “Mmmmm, they smell of my grandma”.

It would have taken too long to explain what they reminded me of, but I do wonder if everybody has a sweetpea based memory?

Allotments are, by and large, industrious, but calm and reflective places.

This weekend mine was anything but, when hundreds of revellers descended on my plot.

My allotment was the scene of a bee rave.

They were jigging all over the chives, rolling intoxicated on the welsh onion pom-poms, dancing stylishly across the last lacecaps of sweet cicely, and descending determindly on the globes of  angelica as if they were indeed glitter balls in some mad disco, with a free bar.

Like the plant flowers, the bees were of mixed colour and size, but all buzzing the same note of happiness.

It was utterly joyous – Glastonbury for bees.

Sadly this was a select event and not one repeated on any of the other plots on the site. Of course they will all be glad of the bees when they’ve yards of runner beans that need pollinating, but none of them have filled the bees’ hungry gap.

I might put a sign up naming my patch – Ib-Bee-Za

An occasional series on a few of my favourite things.

It must have been six years ago that I stopped wearing a watch. They kept getting trashed in the garden, or whilst decorating, or something. Actually it must have been longer than that, because it was around the same period that I got my first mobile phone and I just started using that to tell me what time it was.
Over the last ten months I have given up my contract phone for a pay as you go. In a small part this was an economic measure, but really a deliberate act intended to free myself from the tyranny of the device, which, whilst useful had become some kind of parasite, and security blanket, and mental bubblegum, and cigarette-a-like dependency all wrapped up in one.
I can’t actually say that it has freed up more of my time though it must have. In that it is a bit like giving up fags and expecting that you’ll have more money in your pocket. You don’t.

But I found that I needed a timepiece, and so bought this silly little rubbery thing. Granted it looks stupid, but it’s durable, waterproof and I never have to take it off. In fact I only ever do, when Little Boots demands to borrow it and then parades around with it pushed right up to the bicep like some celtic torque.

A few weeks ago I was in the car listening to Gardeners’ Question Time. It was inadvertently amusing because Anne Swithinbank was talking to a Geordie gardener, about a council bedding scheme he was planning. Despite the fact that he didn’t have a particularly thick accent, when he mentioned wallflowers, she thought he’d said wildflowers and commented they were an interesting choice for a regimented bedding scheme. I tweeted about this later that evening. And then in another tweet said that the programme needs a bomb up it’s arse.

After that I was a bit surprised to get a reply tweet from Robert Abel, of the GQT production company, who tweets at JunctionForty5, saying “Exploding arses-probably out of the question but give us some more specific constructive criticism for GQT and we’ll listen.”

It too often seems to me that we in the UK excel at producing people who delight in moaning about stuff, without ever offering anything positive. I hate that. To my mind you are only allowed to moan about something if you think you can improve it, or have ideas to offer about how to do so.

With that in mind, here is my response to Robert’s Tweet.

Of course, I must begin by saying that I’m sure that the experts know more than I ever will, and I utterly respect that. But this isn’t about expertise.

It should also be said that GQT is a programme that I used to never miss, and now is one I rarely bother with. After asking myself a few times why that is, the main reason I came up with wasn’t that it’s boring, or uninspiring, or uninformative, but rather that it’s dull to listen to.

Last year, after Geoffrey Smith passed away, they aired some “best of” clips, including him crossing verbal swords with Nigel Colborn. I remember listening and wishing that the programme was more like that these days.

It seemed vibrant and alive in a way that just doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

From my perspective this has been thrown into even sharper relief by the loss of John Cushnie, the only one of the recent regular incumbents with any sort of spark about them.

Of the remaining panellists, I find Bunny Guinness a bit tedious and mildly annoying (and not in a stimulated by being annoyed kind of way), and Bob Flowerdew’s manner is just plain odd. This has nothing to do with his gardening ethos, which I do quite like, just his manner. As for the other regulars, Anne Swithinbank, Pippa Greenwood and Matthew Biggs, they’re just…..well they’re just…. well frankly, they’re just beige.

I realise that the gardening radio audience are uber-conservative, by and large. And I’m not advocating a wholesale “Night of the Long Trowels” like they had in 1994 when they got rid of the whole panel.

But it just seems to me that they could have the odd expert with a bit more snap and fizz.

Thinking about it, a new presenter might be another way of injecting a bit of colour, but that said, Eric Robson is one of the most three-dimensional things about the programme. That may be seen as either praise or damnation, but whichever you choose it does not reflect well on his understudy – that big drip whose day job is reading the weather. They’d do well to give him the old ‘Spanish Archer’.

In summary, I think what I am saying is that:

Gardening as a process is about life and death. Plants reproduce and they die, they thrive and they wane, they grow berserk and are eaten to the ground.

Gardening as a practice is about empiricism along with intuition, it’s reactive and proactive, it is both passionate and passive and sometimes all at the same time.

And that surely GQT should reflect some of this vibrancy and contradiction.

Since a cheap plastic Venetian blind broke, about five years ago, I haven’t bought a single plant label.

In fact I doubt if I ever will again, because when this lot runs out – maybe in another five years – I might just buy another cheap blind and cut that up.

Or maybe not, after all that‘s not particularly green. Anyway, I’m sure by then I’ll have come up with another recycled substitute.

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