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Archive for the tag “Gardening”

Take me outside into the green garden – but not one I have to look after!

If an Englishman’s home is his castle, then his garden is probably his tapestry or trophy room. And it’s the season to apply some spit and polish before show time. Tangles of shrubs and seed spikes left as overwinter shelter for insects, food for birds, and because November was a bit too busy to get out into the garden, have morphed into a straggly organic car crash. The moment has come to don the gardening gloves.

“Gardening is a ‘good thing’ and chimes nicely with a style of living which engages with the here-and-now”

Gardening is, of course, about embracing and responding to seasons. This is a ‘good thing’ and chimes nicely with a style of living which engages with the here-and-now rather than what can be had whenever you fancy it, whatever the cost. But gardening is like housework. No sooner have you dusted from top to bottom than it’s time to start all over again (insert ‘weeded’, ‘mowed’ or ‘pruned’ for ‘dusted’). Plus maintaining a garden is not always totally rewarding. My ambition to eat my own sprouts on Christmas Day was fulfilled in 2013 – with micro sprouts. My beetroot were hardly better and my leeks have spring-onion envy. I look at the allotments around Berwick with respect – I long for my garden to be packed with gorgeous produce, I long to be the sort of person who loves to toil the soil. But I am a reluctant gardener.

My uneasy relationship with gardening is not so unusual. New builds often don’t have much garden – not just because contractors want to squeeze as much infrastructure into a site as possible, but also because many of us simply don’t want the faff of looking after even a postage stamp of open space. Life’s too busy. Or perhaps we’re too nervous – we don’t know how to garden anymore. The times I’ve enjoyed gardening most have been when working alongside someone more knowledgeable than me – company and confidence rolled up in one.

My own garden in May - there's a lot to be done  if it's going to look like that this year!

My own garden in May – there’s a lot to be done if it’s going to look like that this year!

Step up the public open space. I can’t tell you how excited I am about all the work going on in Berwick: from Castle Vale and Coroner’s Park by the station, to the lily pond and refurbed route to the river from Tweed Street, to the cutting back and tidying beside and beneath Meg’s Mount. It’s an initiative spearheaded through County Council’s Strategic Parks project. Berwick’s slice of the pie (just shy of a million quid) is largely funded by a Lottery grant.

What a view! Coronation Park in Berwick-upon-Tweed all ready for planting at the end of March 2014.  (photo

Kate Morison, manager of the parks project, traces the decline of these fondly remembered areas to funding cuts. And now, the regular zoom-through of the County green squad to cut grass and hack shrubs simply can’t match up to the heyday when there were two permanent park keepers in Berwick. Kate was born and bred in Berwick and is pleased to be back. She has high hopes for the parks – decent signage, programmes of events, people whiling away happy moments waiting for trains or simply enjoying the breathtaking views. The more these marvellous places are used, the more vibrant they’ll be – and stay. If you’ve not admired the shiny pin kerbs, or the nascent rockeries, the tidied shelter areas and the gorgeous new steps, get to it!

A band of willing volunteers is essential to the long-term maintenance of the rejuvenated spaces. Kate’s wired into all the right networks (including CARA – Castlegate Residents Association – who’ve been hands-on since the beginning). And it won’t be long before these eager public-spirited gardeners can get down to it – the contractors set sail at the end of the month. If you’re interested, contact Kate through the Council offices on Quayside.

Meanwhile, if you’re keen and confident and would like a bit of gardening practice, I can offer a garden in desperate need of tlc, some companionship, and a half decent cup of tea!

A version of this article was published in the Berwick Advertiser

The rush of rural life

Fast Castle - just one of the wild and wonderful places near Berwick-upon-Tweed

Rural life is so hectic!

Despite being reared in the country I had forgotten the  relentless things to do, see and take part in – every town and village designs its own activities and fetes. Then there are music events, lectures, groups and societies. And, of course, the business of living.

It’s nine months since we moved to Berwick from North London. The Husband finds going back to London increasingly difficult. Even I have felt less need to book up advance trains for every school holiday. This must surely mean we are settling in. Even more radical than that, it means that we really have decided to make Berwick our home. Of course, we will never be locals. I remember my mother explaining to me that although she had lived in Suffolk for 25 years she was still an ‘outsider’!

I look back over these busy months and have to acknowledge that, as we’ve determinedly thrown ourselves into our new home and way of life, the highs have been way up there and the lows have been, well, low.

Our garden has given us enormous pleasure despite its daunting dimensions and landscaping. The installation of our three hens had the whole family in anthropomorphic clucks. We found it so easy to attribute ‘the ladies’ with human characteristics…they ‘enjoyed’ being with us, they ‘chatted’ to us and each other. In short, Nutmeg, Champion and Rose delighted us as they dug the garden, kept us company, ate scraps and, most importantly, produced impossibly luscious eggs.

Rose - later to become 'The Killer Hen'

Rose - later to become 'The Killer Hen'

The first egg

The first egg

I’m growing lettuce, cabbage, basil, coriander, radishes, garlic, tomatoes, peas and sweet peas. The Husband dusted down his tool box and found enormous fulfilment in fashioning a chicken run and a variety of other satisfying manly wooden items for the garden. We barely scratched the surface of such rural pursuits in London. We loathed the idea of pets – the campaign against the resident house mice and urban foxes filled any need for animal contact.

In Berwick, we’ve enjoyed delicious, locally sourced food as fresh as that found in any posh London restaurant. We’ve attended Slow Food events, we have a pig developing nicely over in Foulden at Peelham Farm, we’ve hurrahed the Riding of the Bounds, we’ve attended philosophy lectures, been to the theatre, cinema and art galleries (on our doorstep instead of a tube ride or two away), set out for marvellous walks on our own and with the local bird group, we’ve done a sailing course and we’ve received amazing hospitality, generosity and kindness from so many people. It really makes me smile when I count my Berwick blessings.

A marvellous birdwalk on Holy Island with North Northumberland birdwatching group

Of course, we arrived with our rose-tinted glasses firmly in place. We didn’t worry too much about locking garden sheds. After all, in this local community everyone knows everyone and crime is low, unlike the London area we hail from. We are more careful now after most of the husband’s tools went missing.

When we realised one of our hens had arrived with scaly leg, we regaled our friends with the picture of two inadequate Londoners wrestling
Vaseline onto the legs of said hen. How we all laughed. It was less fun when two of the hens died suddenly and inexplicably. And, when our remaining hen turned into a blood-thirsty hen-pecking murderer after we attempted to introduce a new hen, we were revolted. Our desire to apply human characteristics to our hens did not stretch to accepting power structures, territorial instincts and natural selection. Even if, as a Suffolk farmer I once knew used to say: “Where there’s livestock, there’s deadstock.”

So, the tint of our glasses hasn’t exactly been tarnished but it has cleared a little. Which is probably just as well. We have a lot to learn about our new life. But I don’t want to totally lose the thrill of what is a great adventure. And that seems unlikely as the pace of Berwick living hurtles us into the next new experience.

Garden pleasures

(A version of this article was first published on June 9th 2011 in The Berwick Advertiser

The thrills and terrors of limitless possibilities

Early days – the garden before I realised how much work it takes to keep it trim and pretty

I am frightened of my garden. The snow has melted and revealed a dishevelled, unmaintained thing. It looks unwieldy and scary.

My London garden was paved and sported jauntily arranged pots packed with geraniums. I could rush round with a broom and scoop fallen leaves into the compost in half an hour. It was predictable and safe. This garden, with its lawn, beds, trimmed bushes and borders is unfamiliar and demanding.

What I anticipated would be a fun challenge has become a source of anxiety. Getting out there, and deciding what to do first, feels overwhelming – let alone the grandiose ideas I harboured of fruit trees and chickens.

This got me wondering whether my malaise is symptomatic of the feelings experienced when familiar structures are removed and replaced with seemingly limitless possibilities. Those ‘limitless’ possibilities are so easily turned into impossibilities by one’s mind – and by circumstances.

Is this why, historically, many men who retire after vigorous working lives die quite soon after they’ve hung up their nine-to-five coats? Why so many chaps leaving the army end up in trouble? Why some women struggle to regain the confidence to take on a job of similar standing after a career break for children?

My current garden phobia does not equate in any way, shape or form to the magnitude of the above – but maybe the sense of feeling lost and without structure since our family upped our London sticks is similar.

Of course, negative thoughts and feelings are often heightened in winter. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is well documented. As grey clouds roll in so, for many people, do the dark mists of depression. Recommendations to combat SAD such as, ‘go on holiday, buy a sun lamp, soak up vitamin D when the sun does shine, and find activities that give you joy…’ are not always practical.

My mother advocates, ‘putting a smile on your face.’ Much as it annoys me to acknowledge it, she has a point – smiling does, apparently, release mood-enhancing endorphins and generally make you more attractive and approachable to others.

Before the snow melted to reveal the dishevelled, demanding Berwick garden

As I pine for my London and the huge, noisy, cluttered, faceless anonymity of it all, I have to remind myself that I am also mourning my small but close community of friends who noticed when I got crabby and knew how best to cheer me up and wrap me in a security blanket.

Since I moved to Berwick I’ve been fortunate enough to meet an enormous amount of people – all of whom have been incredibly open, friendly and supportive. Initially I had to stop myself clinging to people’s ankles and begging them to be my friends – I guess I wanted to build my little protective structures as quickly as possible. But, as I am fond of pointing out to The Nine-Year-Old, making friends and settling into a new place is a funny old business and takes time. You only have to glance back through your own catalogue of friends loved and lost through the years to realise that some friendships you believed would be for life turn out to be just for a season and vice versa.

Which brings us back to my garden. Gardening is a pastime which embraces the seasons and is supposed to enhance mental wellbeing… the sky is blue, the sun is shining and the frost sparkling. Limitless possibilities await my budding green fingers. I’d better get my sorry butt out there before I have second thoughts. Or maybe I’ll just take stock with a cup of tea and a gardening magazine. After all, it’s best to take these things a day at a time…

(A version of this article was first published on March 17th 2011 in The Berwick Advertiser

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