Lucky not to have a gardener

We are so lucky not to have a gardener; this is about the joy of doing it all yourself.

For something different on gardening read Prue Leith’s take on an English garden[1] in The Telegraph. She emigrated from SA some fifty years ago and is now eighty. Obviously well-heeled, and with rands that actually would have been worth some pounds, together with her husband she bought a home in the Cotswolds.

It’s an entertaining read on the unpredictability of it all, and how gardening can be all hard work and disappointment.

Poppies from the gardener.

She took however her SA roots with her to their new home. Says she, “I’ve always been lucky enough to have a gardener.”

That got me thinking. I have decided that I am lucky enough not to have a gardener. Well, that’s not entirely true. Unlike Prue whose husband, a writer, "seldom ever leaves the study," the good-wife here is every bit as committed as I am; perhaps even more so.

Whilst it’s true that gardening does have an unpredictable side, I am glad to be able to boast about being the only man in the whole world who gets fresh-roses, or at the moment huge bunches of delightful poppies in my office; every working day of my life from the good wife.

Her flowers are very predictable.

Armchair roses.

And I’m happy to say the mulberries have once again brought us delicious, fresh fruit and the entertaining Louries; and a host of other birds to party. Lemons and limes abound but I must admit though that I have been battling to pick the twenty avocados[2] a week that we are accustomed to. It will not be a nine-month season this year; we think that tornado that brushed the village last year knocked a lot of the flowers off.

One crop that was completely unpredicted was the nectar-flow this last spring; thanks perhaps to the astonishing hail storm in June this has been a truly amazing season. Having 170 bottles already safely harvested, and the promise of more to come, has been a total surprise, surpassing any previous crop that I remember in October.

On the subject of bees, this is a season to treat them with great respect. A "boiling hive" means when you lift the lid, with alternative shopping in your heart, they come pouring out to defend the fruit of their labours. Twice I have literally been chased from the apiary so stroppy were they; that doesn’t happen very often. They are positively dangerous at the moment.

Since childhood we have talked of robbing the bees but it's no longer politically-correct. I too like good strong words that mean something but in fact it is not a good fit; it does not reflect the give and take which characterises how the keeper feels about his pets. So we harvest the honey. Would a rose smell any different if you gave it another name?

Real bread, cheese and natural honey.

No it would not but saying that we rob the bees lends weight to the vegans' belief that we should not eat honey and that the keeper is a vagabond who exploits nature in a vile way.

So we harvest the honey and give as much and more back to our much-favoured pets; a warm, dry home with clean wax for the queen to lay her eggs in, and food in a dearth.

But let's get back to being lucky not to have a gardener. For us the sheer joy is not only freshly-picked lettuces, young broad beans and a massive crop of potatoes when the price has risen 140% in the last four months. It is all about the whole process starting with building compost-heaps and witnessing the miracle of a seedling poking its head from the ground. Then there is mulching, weeding and watering the young plants; it beats going to the gym for exercise.

The broad bean season incidentally means a big reduction in the tremor in my right hand; it is all about a phytonutrient called L-dopa. Legumes form an important part of the longevity diet; I will bet Prue's gardener planted them and she is enjoying the benefits too.

And finally harvesting an astonishing amount of fresh, nutritious food much of which is shared with family and friends.

Interestingly new potatoes just lifted from the ground have about half the digestible starch of those from cold-storage. Even diabetics can often enjoy them provided it's a small portion, with no need to increase their insulin. Easy composting means our spuds are often covered with butternut plants and easily lost; so we stake them. It also makes it easier to heap them up.

It means forest bathing to restore the spirit, wholesome exercise and the joy of not requiring that mother of all tortures, the indoor-bicycle.

Grow your own potatoes.

Yesterday I, not the serf, planted over a hundred peppadew seedlings that the good-wife has reared. Unless there is a catastrophe, and it turns out to be all hard work and disappointment, we are in for a bumper crop this year.

Bucketful of peppadews.

Growing peppadews has been one of the most rewarding vegetables in our garden but they do need to be staked; the plants are so heavy in fruit that they will collapse otherwise and then they don't ripen. After citrus they are the richest source of vitamin C and a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called capsaicin; we give them the credit for how little pain we experience in our muscles and joints.

And today was a record day; 12 eggs from 14 free-range layers, and three darling new chicks from one of the broody hens. That was a first for us.

Chicks being taught to scratch.

Lucky not to have a gardener

We are lucky not to have a gardener; this essay weighs up the sheer pleasure of having masses of fresh, unspoiled food from all the hard work.

One other not so small benefit is that those who sit over eight hours per day have up to a 50% increase in all-cause mortality[3].

Yes, it’s hard work; and it does take quite a lot of time, but no, we certainly would not welcome a request from Open Gardens. With no serf ours is an untidy mess. It does mean not spending hours stuck in front of the TV, in the study at the computer writing books or plying the social media. It is probably the most rewarding and satisfying thing I do.

When the world wearies, and society ceases to satisfy, there’s always the garden.

I suspect Prue Leith’s serf did all the hard work and got all the pleasure, fed his family from the excess and was paid for his labours. She was probably left with some of the left-overs and all the disappointment! 

We are indeed lucky not to have a gardener.

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  • Everyone is talking about weight loss drugs
  • Pull the sweet tooth
  • If you suffer from heartburn plant a susu
  • Refined maize meal and stunting
  • Should agriculture and industry get priority for water and electricity?
  • Nature is calling
  • Mill your own flour
  • Bake your own sourdough bread
  • Microplastics from our water
  • Alternative types of water storage
  • Wear your clothes out
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  • Create a bee-friendly environment
  • Go to bed slightly hungry
  • Keep bees
  • Blue zone folk are religious
  • Reduce plastic waste
  • Family is important
  • What can go in compost?
  • Grow broad beans for longevity
  • Harvest and store sunshine
  • Blue zone exercise
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