As we like it: in the garden

All the world's not a stage. Some of it's a garden, and all the men and women merely gardeners. They have their exits and their entrances....

Actually, our entrance-and-exit down on the plots is at the moment a little sticky. Someone's mistreated the gate lock, and its resulting resistance to keys only yields to the subtlest persuasions. Still, it does remain an easier ingress than scratching and weaving through the hawthorn hedge, or attempting to find a nonexistent foothold in the huge stone wall that divides the plots from the Rugby Club.

Maybe the gate is feeling unusually overworked. Comparatively speaking, the plots are abuzz with activity just now. Lots of forgotten faces are showing up for the new season. The regulars are here as ever. But Monty's white Fiat seems almost permanently parked by the gate. And Red put in a late-afternoon appearance yesterday (he is really a mornings-only man), trying eagerly to convince himself that his first carrots were visible. They weren't. But he bent over the raised beds, studying them intently.

"You're just willing them up, Red!"

"Yup."

He puffed hot air onto them like a dragon encouraging its eggs to hatch.

Arguably, this is the time of year that comes closest to a plotter's heart. The sowing, the watching, the nurturing. I sometimes wonder if the reason there are more men than women plotters (though the traditional imbalance is gradually changing) is that men, while we can't have babies, can give birth to cabbages and radishes. Here we are, fussing and fiddling protectively over the tender inklings of fresh green growth, midhusbands every one.

I myself am having the greatest difficulty staying away from my plot. And once in it, I never want to leave. In the mornings, when the dog-walk is over, we pop into the plot for what I firmly tell myself (and the dog) is "only 10 minutes." No matter that I had been there well into the gloaming the night before, thinning and weeding, and had spent some of the afternoon there, too.

I need to see that the seedlings are doing all right, to look for any new ones showing. Just the briefest once-over. Two-and-a-half hours later, I am still there working away.

"OK, OK," I say aloud to the dog, "Enough! We're on our way home." She angles her ears, but then yawns and flops down, squashing a carrot row, her feet scattering lazily among the onions. She knows me only too well.

I may wash my hands in one of my water barrels, apparently ready to go, but then I'll have them muddy again in moments as I attack an overlooked Amazon of ground elder and bindweed along Jim's fence. It has grown so big it cannot possibly be left unchallenged a second longer. And then I spot some potatoes breaking through, and they must be mounded up with earth immediately. And then I notice the globe artichokes are flopping over the parsnips and need staking. And ... and -oh! - I must get the leeks sown, it's probably far too late already, and ... another half-hour has shot past.

"I don't know why you don't live down there," is the wifely observation that night.

"It's the time of year," I mutter, trying unconvincingly to sound apologetic. The truth is that I have come back home, after three long plot sessions in 12 hours, with total reluctance. And the smell of earth and air hovering round me like an aura secretly reiterates: All the world's a garden.

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