March isn’t the best time to see flowers, but it’s the time when I get a lot of garden visitors. Polite people phone in advance and ask: “Would it be a terrible imposition if…” Some arrive unexpectedly and I have to rush around and remove the washing and the dog bones. Some are bossy: “That should be staked,” someone announced today about a lovely rose, blowing in the wind. For one visitor, the way the trunks of the climbing roses hugged the pillars was more important than the blooms.
When I open the garden gate, the women sigh and say, “Isn’t it beautiful?” or they just sigh. The men ask about watering methods, compost, pests and crop rotation. Men, I think, want you to know that they know stuff.
Men and women garden differently, I thought recently while standing on my brother’s deck looking down at his vegetables. The effect was like a green barcode, so regular were the rows. My son Robert said: “Your ways of growing things couldn’t be more different.” He’s right. I have to have treats for the eyes and the nose as well as rows of lettuces.
Young men’s gardens use complicated technology. Robert told us the plants on his apartment balcony had died. He said the watering can I gave him for Christmas was too much trouble, so he’s installing a tap on the balcony. I don’t know what the plumber’s quote was but I do know the kitchen sink is a mere six strides from the balcony.
Men like their plants to be useful, ie, edible. I agree with them. Why my visitors come in March I don’t know. March is when the bugs and I race to see who can eat the most.
I have too many tomatoes. When the last garden visitors leave tomorrow I will make minestrone – huge pots of it for the freezer. Then the feijoas will be dropping and I’ll have to do something with them. But in this late summer weather I think I’ll just reap, not weed; eat, not cook. I need a rest from visitors before the big autumn clean-up begins.
I hate to tell you this, but to some your brother’s barcode vegetable garden is a thing of beauty and your interweaving of flowers and vegetables a bewildering muddle. Last year I grew carrots in ever-diminishing ellipses around a blob of beetroot plants. To a militarist my garden would look disorderly but my mother used to say that an orchestrated disorder was perfectly distinct from a vulgar confusion. Your garden is a beautifully orchestrated wilderness and that is why women sigh at the gate. Men who ask questions about compost and crop rotations are probably militarists.
As for visitors, we do not expect unexpected callers up our road so, when one does drop in, we are very unprepared. Years ago I gave my neighbour Mandy a pair of amazingly skimpy shorts that I could no longer squeeze into. A couple of weeks later the phone rang; it was a very indignant Mandy.
“You shouldn’t have given me those shorts.”
“Why ever not? I thought you liked them?”
“I do, but they are not for public viewing and you didn’t let me know that the Cuddon & Stewart man was doing his rounds today. I had to talk to him from behind a bush.”
After the shorts episode we instigated an early warning system. I would ring Mandy and say, “He’s just left. You have six minutes.” If he visited Melrose first, she would ring me.
The six-minute warning system isn’t necessary any more; we both wear more clothes when gardening. But I do think a 30-minute warning would be handy because 30 minutes is time to bake a biscuit. Yesterday a man came to collect a horse. Harry unexpectedly invited him in for coffee and
“one of Virginia’s famous cheesy biscuits. She’s written a book about baking you know.” There were no cheesy biscuits. “What’s the use of writing a book about baking if you never bake?” asked Harry. Indeed, I thought.