Do you think the weather's bad enough in your neck of the woods? Spare a thought for Patrick Vickery who writes the hugely enjoyable Ramblingbloke, and gardens for a living forty miles past Inverness (good grief! So far north and not swimming!). Consequently he's on intimate terms with chilly conditions that would make most of us wake up in sweat.
Here's how Patrick described himself to me:
I am what is known as a ‘jobbing’ gardener, moving from garden to garden throughout the working week. I drive a battered Ford Mondeo and wear a woolly hat. I am one of those scruffy-looking guys whose car is crammed to the gunwales with all manner of garden tools and accessories.
I can average eight gardens a day throughout the summer months, sometimes more. A diary is essential. By late afternoon I have often forgotten where I was in the morning. Two hours in one place is my limit. Anymore than that and the boredom threshold is breached. Variety is the key – a different location, a different cake (I am offered many cakes – perk of the job).
I'm delighted to say that Patrick has taken time out to guest on Weeding the Web. When he moved from the clement climes of Hampshire 25 years ago he found, "The growing season is short and the winters long, making life a little precarious at times for full-time gardeners." But he's not dwelling on the weather.
When Helen suggested that I might write a guest article I was delighted. But what sort of article should it be? I have always had an interest in the person behind the garden - you know, the garden owner - so I thought I might ponder a bit about the people I have known rather than the vegetables I have grown.
I frequent a large garden on a regular basis (twice a week, weather permitting) where a certain notable of the district furnishes me with filter coffee and a blast of Vivaldi or Haydn through his conservatory window as I tend to his heather beds and shrubberies.
He is a retired judge. I call him Ronald. Others might refer to him as ‘My Lord’, or ‘Me Lud’. One year he loaned me an antiquated wooden mallet to bash posts in to support his sweet peas. The mallet was four times the size of a sledgehammer and, indeed, the sort of thing that Fred Flintstone or Barney Rubble would use to play croquet. I believe Ronald, himself, plays croquet with his enlarged mallet. Could be intimidating, eh?
A hot reception
‘Bingo’ (an ex-world war two pilot) adopted a scorched earth policy in his garden by burning the weeds with a flame thrower (a ‘weed burning stick’ to be precise, available from all good Garden centres, about £20, great fun).
Spying the advantage
Mentioning ‘Bingo’, the mysterious Mrs Mac comes to mind, an espionage expert, now sadly deceased, who insisted I dig goose fat around her roses to encourage vigorious growth. It’s an interesting idea, that, and possibly a throwback to horticulture from earlier times.
Mentioning this in my monthly newspaper column resulted in a few emails flying thick and fast in my direction from the Beechgrove Garden team. Not advised, they counselled, don’t do that, not that Mrs Mac would have taken a blind bit of notice, she knew Churchill, after all, and was on nodding terms with Stalin and Roosevelt at Yalta.
Out for a duck
While loosely on the subject of eatable birds, goose fat and such like, another character of the district, Hamish, not far off 100 and surprisingly agile for a man of his age, used to keep Muscovy ducks and well recalls the occasional errant character fleeing from his garden with a Muscovy under one arm and a shore of ‘tatties’ under the other with himself in hot pursuit bellowing, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch, you bounder!”
Did he ever catch them? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t like to be in their shoes if he had.
Out of the mouths of babes
And finally a cautionary tale about the dangers of educating young children on environmental issues: I was pruning shrubs in town when a group of nursery age children passed by. One little chappie broke into spontaneous song: “He’s chopping down trees, he’s chopping down trees," he sang at the top of his voice and the other twenty or so children joined in.
Now, there’s a distinction between pruning (which has to be done) and chopping down trees (which doesn’t always have to be done), but try explaining that to a group of environmentally aware small people. Not as easy as it sounds. So I didn’t. I chopped and they sang.
If all this sound idyllic in an eccentric kind of way, then it is. But despite the prevalence of dolphins and seals, panoramic views of snow-capped mountain peaks and the abundance of cake, never forget that winter temperatures often dip below zero and the prospect of spending 2 hours outside in someone else’s garden can be a challenge.
I wouldn’t have it any other way, of course, but the wood burning stove is a welcome sight when I return home and I am ever thankful for my woolly hat and thermal socks.
May your gardening be joyful, above freezing and productive wherever you may be.
Next time, the first post in a new, monthly book review slot looks at Planting the Dry Shade Garden, by Graham Rice.