Generosity tries to take root

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Ah ... the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men....

Sharing what you have to spare with fellow plotters, for instance. It's an enticing pleasure, this. But I've found it's not always quite as easy or as predictable in its results as you'd think.

Like the time I offered Jean a bunch of my cowslips. Fresh yellow and pale green bunches of cowslips in spring take me straight back to childhood and a time when they colonized entire meadows, simply left for years to multiply, undisturbed by herbicides, plowing, land-drainage or house-building. Although cowslips are still a million miles from extinction, I'm convinced they are decreasing, and it does no harm to grow as many as possible to demonstrate solidarity with the conservationists.

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Anyway, surprised by my bunch, Jean took two steps backward, narrowly missing a seedling cabbage. It was as if I was offering her deadly nightshade. "No, no, I don't think so!" she exclaimed.

"They're just wildflowers," I murmured, laughing.

"Oh, no, I'm wild enough already."

So I took them away and am still completely mystified.

Some plotters generously accept a present even if they really don't want it. I gave Neil and Nurse Elizabeth a lettuce each one day last summer when I had a superfluity. They said they would love to have one. I happened to notice later that Elizabeth had gone home without hers. And later still that Neil had forgotten all about his, too. Both had wilted beyond saving (the lettuces, I mean) just where they'd been left. No snub was intended, I'm certain. They probably just agree with me that lettuces look great growing but are a bore to eat.

Red always gracefully accepts whatever I throw his way. His only reluctance is when I offer him a bunch of daffodils or Dutch iris for his wife. "A pity to pick them," he says.

"That's why I grew them: for cutting."

"Oh, OK."

Other things he has taken eagerly - raspberry canes, cauliflower plants, sweet williams. He always plants them right away, firming them in with his boot so vigorously I wonder how they survive. (Sometimes, frankly, they don't.) Jackie and Kirsten, two new plotters this year, happily gave a home on their cottagey patch to some white-flowered climbing beans, of which I had too many.

Someone, it could have been Carlo, accepted giant sunflower plants. Tommy Docherty had lost his lemon balm, and I was able to replace it. And Neil had mercy on some redundant brassicas. I am, however, beginning to think that Neil's interest in growing things is low on his priority list. He is far more concerned with furnishing his shed (it now boasts a new cupboard and a hammock) and in covering surfaces.

ALREADY famous for his weed-deterrent carpets, he has now taken to layering much of his plot with fragmented forest bark. But the pice de rsistance is the dead turf covering his hut roof.

This turf came from me. I had bought it for a job at home, but had wildly miscalculated. I had rolls and rolls left over. So I dumped them on my plot's compost heap. I did mention to Neil, however, that if he wanted the turf to make a path or something, he was welcome to take it. He did. But he used it to turf his hut, in the tradition of highland peasant dwellings.

By now he has, I think, finally accepted that grass without soil under it finds growing tricky. Not one green blade survives. But Neil hasn't removed its remains. In honor, I surmise, of the best-laid schemes of men and mice.

* A weekly series about a municipal garden in Glasgow, Scotland.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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