There is more to having a garden than simply sowing seeds, potting on, weeding, planting out, dead-heading and harvesting. It is not all about the cultivars and compost, the maintenance and the mowing, the pest control and the picking out. Sometimes, you just have to sit down and take it all in. Simply enjoy it.
It was something that I felt The Old Man often failed to do. He would work tirelessly on the garden (when not tirelessly watching Countdown) and would often overlook the fact that the garden should be there for your delight and delectation.
Having said that, I have to admit that, in gardening terms, I too, am often prey to the beasts of constant work and no play. I find it difficult to sit in the garden without being distracted by the weeds, the gaps in the planting or the withered flower heads that require removal. It takes a conscious effort for me to overlook the imperfections in my garden (of which there are legion). But in this respect I am like many another gardener. No one I know has been able to do the whole Book of Genesis thing by taking a finite time to create their horticultural world and then, like, well, God – take a rest. We simply cannot help plucking a weed from a border or thinking how NEXT year we should get the annuals in earlier.
But this summer I am feeling pretty chuffed with my efforts to take the remains of a snooker table, some fencing and a few pallets to create a sunken seating area from which I can view the garden while resting and relaxing with family and friends. The idea came from the snooker table that my mother had inherited from her father. I say snooker table: when it came to clearing The Old Place after my father’s death, my brothers and I knew none of us could accommodate a 2/3 snooker table in any of our 21st century homes so we had consigned the table to house clearance. There had been a brief discussion with the valuer about the fact that, as my maternal grandfather had been a next door neighbour and billiards-playing chum of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this table had undoubtedly been played on by the creator of Sherlock Holmes and might have some value.
To which the auctioneer replied “provenance?” And the table was doomed to kindling.
But I could not bear to see the two pieces of slate that formed the flat, true surface of the table go to waste. Measuring 6ft by 4ft I felt there had to be some use for them. For two years they rested against the garage wall before I finally alighted upon the idea of a small patio. And this became, with the inclusion of the pallets left behind by builders and delivery drivers, a sunken seating area. The plan was vague at best, and even then only in my head, so few thought it viable. My good friend (and highly talented interior designer) Sarah, when I explained it to her simply looked with disdain at the wet muddy hole in the ground and said “Oh yes?” While my former tennis partner suggested I change the plan to create the largest shove ha’penny board around.
I harboured doubts of my own, but like Kevin Costner, I knew that if I built it they would come. So I did, and they did. Some salvaged fence rails, some gravel, a purchase of cheap foam, loosely wrapped in cheap IKEA fabric and my seats of dreams were complete.
Not content with this, we have since bought a pizza oven, which required the construction of a base for it (from pallets, natch), which in turn needed a wood store to keep the kiln-dried logs dry (constructed from more pallets and a little timber salvaged from the old potting shed).
So, for the price of a few nails, some gravel, cushions and material, the Midlife Garden has a new rest and relaxation and outdoor cooking area. This is not to say that working in the garden does not have its own rewards above and beyond the extrinsic “isn’t it lovely” type of happiness. The simple act of working with your hands, nurturing, caring and literally seeing the fruits of your labours is something that is indefinable, but very real. But sitting on my new pallet seats, feet firmly planted on the slates that might have helped in the creation of Holmes and Watson, eating a pizza cooked in an oven positioned on a stand I made myself, fired with wood that is being kept dry in a log store I inexpertly put together too, I feel sated and happy.
Now, where has the sun gone?