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.
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.
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