Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The Zeitgeist

is not something I am normally part of. I am in the vanguard of nothing: certainly not fashion. Or the current hot read. But, inadvertently, I am suddenly doing something fashionable.

My husband bought Country Life yesterday. I used to read Country Life avidly - well, to be more accurate, I would drool over the house advertisements avidly, if one can drool avidly. I think I did. However, living in our own country house, albeit on a much smaller and far less grand scale than the usual Country Life effort, has completely cured me of coveting other people's listed beauties. No longer do I think, "Oooh, how lovely," when I look at something's Elizabethan brickwork, or its ornate drain hoppers. Now I just feel grateful that it is not me that has to look after those acres of roof, cough up thousands for guttering, or do battle with ancient wiring which last saw an electrician in the 1920s, let alone the acres of gravel path, the lawns, the fences, the hedges......

But back to Country Life. It is Chelsea Week this week (and I love Chelsea: husband and daughter do too. When we lived in London, I used to go, and spent hours in the Pavilion admiring the old fashioned roses and pinks) and Country Life feel the garden designers, or at least the RHS, have missed the zeitgeist. We live in straitened times, and vegetable gardening is where it is at: but you would not know this if you looked at the show gardens at Chelsea. Part of this, CL feel, is because garden designs have to be submitted very soon after the current show, and there are penalties for changing the design. So, whilst the rest of the country might be busy digging up its lawns, and, I hope, its decking, to plant veg, Chelsea sails serenely and expensively on, creating beauty but not utility.





I think there is always a place for that which is supremely beautiful but of no tangible use. Those wonderful gardens delight me: they restore my soul, and my soul is something that needs a good bit of restoration in the midst of son's GCSEs, attempting to decorate and keep up with my ever mounting workload.

Our own garden is about two thirds flower to one third vegetables, fruit and herbs. One of my first acts when we got here was to (OK - not me on my own: it was a joint effort) convert the dog run to a vegetable garden, and ever since I have kept quiet about my vegetable growing efforts, as I soon realised it was Not What Other People Did. Not that my efforts are anything special: my aim is for the maximum possible yield for the minimum possible effort, and as veg growing does demand effort, I sometimes fail. I have noticed that the experts don't generally recommend leaving a lettuce plant to bolt because if you are lucky it will set seed and save you a job next year, which is my approach. For anyone who does want one of my very few gardening tips, leaving stuff to seed works unfailingly with lamb's lettuce, which will cheerfully bung itself all over the place, meaning you only have to find the plants and transplant them.
The picture above shows my conventional bit: to the right is what happens if you leave radishes. I don't need that space yet so I've left them there over winter, and well beyond. I like their abundance, and the masses of white flowers and coincidentally they are doing a very good job of stopping anything else taking over. As to what the radishes themselves might taste like..... I'm not sure I want to find out.

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