I’ve been working in the garden: clearing ground, digging over, picking out stones and forking in muck. Straightening up for a few minutes to stretch my spine and watch the robins feed – it’s amazing how quickly they catch the whiff of worms! – I scan the garden and realise just how higgeldy-piggeldy it is.
I am in awe of classic showcase vegetable gardens. You know the ones I mean? All straight lines and right angles, beds and borders clearly demarcated with manicured edges, perfectly-planted produce standing proud in precise rows, proper paths wide enough for a wheelbarrow, caged soft fruit bushes, trained fruit trees, three-bay compost systems, sparkling greenhouses . . . ah, the stuff of dreams. It’s not going to happen here any time soon, that’s for sure. One of the reasons is practicality: graph paper designs work well on flat land but try smoothing and creasing them down a steep slope and it’s a different matter. I’m beginning to realise the best we can hope for here is that enough soil manages to cling on long enough to give plants the chance to get their roots down. Gravity might be a relatively weak force but it certainly has the upper hand here and I really could do with spikes on my wellies.
The other reason is, in all honesty, that I actually like the jumbled, jostling nature of this garden; true, the haphazard planting was born of necessity this year but it has a gentle (if slightly chaotic) charm and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Organised geometric gardens remind me of the Romans: precision, discipline, control. Okay, so ‘straight line thinking’ got them a long way but I prefer something more random, curving and flowing, with odd plants popping up in unexpected places next to unlikely companions. Does it matter if I have to wade through broccoli, tiptoe through leeks and rummage under Swiss chard just to pick a bunch of parsley? No: in fact, it makes life less predictable and more interesting.
We gave up on proper paths several gardens ago; now we just dig the whole lot and, like ancient trackways and drovers’ roads, let paths develop where our footsteps take us. It’s muddy and slippery in winter, but isn’t that what wellies are for? If the ground becomes compacted, then next year the path will take a different route anyway; the garden’s structure and shape change and evolve with the seasons. Lovely.
So we aren’t going to win any prizes for appearance but that’s fine by us because our garden is about one thing really and that is food. Fresh, abundant, wholesome food grown in fertile soil, warmed by the sun and watered by the rain. No packaging, no labels, no standardised shapes, weights or measures, no pesticides, herbicides or chlorine baths, no ‘best before’ date and no food miles: simply a decent selection of seasonal vegetables we can base all our meals around.
It’s late in the year and we are enjoying squash, onions, beetroot, parsnips, leeks, cabbages, broccoli and salad leaves but the stars of the patch at the moment are undoubtedly the leaves (I hesitate to say ‘greens’ as there are other colours there, too). Steamed, stir-fried, in salads and soups – what a delicious, nutritious bunch they are. Take a look.
Break over, it’s time to get back to digging more strange little patches for planting; I’ve gone way overboard with seeds for next year already (well, why stick with one variety of pepper when you can have six?) so I need to find somewhere to plant them all. The garden grows ever quirkier, ever more chaotic . . . but the bottom line is: no matter what our garden looks like, we won’t be hungry. I consider that to be a blessing. 🙂