This week I learnt that plans are afoot for the 2022 Open Gardens Day in the village. I have been told the date (confidentially), but as it probably needs to go through the usual committees and organisational debates, I am not allowed to say what it is. But suffice to say, we are all excited here at the Midlife Garden to think that we might be making our debut in the biannual village event. The Open Gardens Day is an opportunity to raise money for charity, while giving villagers the chance to enjoy the gardens of their near neighbours. But we all know what it really is: it is the Village Horticultural Olympics.
With the date set for next summer I was motivated to get going on preparation for big day. Initially, I needed to take stock of the current state of the garden. Is it under control? What has grown well and what has failed?
The mid-season performance review has not been positive. Yes, visitors to the Midlife Garden have been extremely complimentary on the state of the beds but, like a British Olympian crying over gaining a bronze medal instead of a gold, I see failure all around me. The broad beans that I did not tie up properly or keep weeded; the kohl Rabi that got eaten by slugs; and the kale that has struggled under the same onslaught, until I belatedly sunk beer traps. The late and lacklustre crops of cosmos and sweet peas and the negligible numbers of sugar snap and ordinary peas. It has not been a classic year. The review reads like the inquest into British Rowing. Ok, millions of lottery funds leading to five 4th place finishes and a lack of gold medals sounds might sound more serious in comparison to the Midlife Garden – but your opinion would change if you could see how the bindweed has clogged the echinacea or saw the total failure of this year’s Rudbeckia Marmalade.
While underperforming athletes are pointing to tough lockdown training conditions, in the Midlife Garden we have had to contend with the weird weather of a cold dry April, followed by a wet and windy May and then flaming June. Plants have struggled to adapt. But ultimately, I need to take a long hard look at my systems and procedures. I need to improve my funding and support for these plants and apply my experience to plan and monitor performance.
In short: I need to be more like The Old Man. Suddenly his insistence on slavishly doing things to a strict and regimented timetable seems laudable, contrasting with my approach which at times borders on laisser-faire.
But the impending announcement of an Open Gardens Day has provided fresh impetus in my gardening. In my thirties I used to run regularly, but rarely for the sake of getting fit: I needed a goal over and above the simple essential of BEING fit. Which is why I regularly entered half marathons and even one wet and windy marathon in Dublin (finishing time: 3 hrs 43 minutes, thank you for asking). Training for an event was what kept me focused and committed. So now, in a summer in which I have been, at times, going through the motions in horticultural terms, I find I have something specific to plan for, and I need to get going.
So, biennials are frantically being sown (a month late) and more hardy annuals are being purchased for autumn planting. It seems a long way off, but time will fly, and as Auden wrote:
“We are left alone with our day, And the time is short and History to the defeated May say alas but cannot help or pardon”.