Of Gardeners and Gardeners

There are gardeners. And real gardeners. Or, to put it another way, there are summer gardeners, and Gardeners for All Seasons.

Mike King, a friendly, substantial Englishman, would comfortably admit to being the former. He turns over the turf on his plot. Plants nothing but potatoes. Weeds them a bit. Mounds them a bit. Digs them up.

Then he vanishes like a midsummer dream or a hibernating hedgehog.

Monty, however, is one of the latter. She says: "It's the winter I like best" - although she confesses distaste for digging frozen ground and is frenetically trying to avoid that eventuality by making full use of September's Indian summer days. To her, winter is peace, space, slow pace, and time at last to attend to those jobs that the demands of overexcited vegetables have interrupted for months. Growing things is such a distraction to gardeners.

These are my sentiments precisely. Now, as the plants slow down, the days thin out, and the chattering plotters (like migrating swallows to African sunshine) retire to the glow of hearths and TV sets, I can get back to painting the shed, taming the wilderness on the boundaries, and relocating all the perennials I planted last winter in quite the wrong places because there was nowhere else sufficiently weed-free.

And I can continue laying my brick paths out into the western territories of my patch. Let the snows flurry! Let the icicles drip on the fences! Moi, I'll work on regardless.

Actually, living in one of the world's most temperate climes is a great bonus. In Britain, it is possible to work soil much of the winter. Last winter was splendidly mild. No snow, and frost that scarcely pie-crusted the earth two or three days altogether.

I suppose I must charitably admit that not all "summer gardeners'' are a dead loss. The model Macleods appear rarely in winter, yet they are efficient, effective growers. We overwintering types tend to be snooty about warm-weather folk. But this is due less to arrogance than to incomprehension.

I mean, if gardening is in your blood, embedded between your very toes, how can you simply switch it off for six or more months out of 12? Poets write between September and May. Cooks cook. Joggers jog. What are real gardeners to do? Just armchair themselves with a gardening book? Or write one, as so many do today? These things can be done after dark.

My old friend Charles Lawrance, FRHS, (actually, I've never met him), author of "The Kingsway Book of the Allotment" (ca. 1917), has wise words on the subject:

"Many gardens present an untidy and neglected appearance during the winter months, and this is particularly true of many allotments.

"The average allotment holder is inclined to rest content with his laurels of victory when he has the summer crops properly harvested and stored. He does not bestir himself during the winter ..., but with feverish energy he will renew the struggle when spring reminds him of the necessity for immediate action. A trained gardener does not make this mistake. He works steadily on through the winter, clearing and tidying up ... and preparing the land in good time for seed sowing...."

Admirable advice.

Clearly Mr. Lawrance - had his garden been at the North Pole - would have desisted not a whit from his clearing and tidying up. He certainly merited the designation "Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society.''

I salute him.

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