Generosity grows in our local gardens

I keep meaning to ask Neil if he enjoyed the duck eggs. He said he'd like to try one sometime. We have a steady supply now, so I left two of them bubble-wrapped in a plastic bag and tied to his security fence. (His community-garden plot is rather like Fort Knox these days. He evidently feels under siege.)

I also left some cardboard for Young John (who had told me he is conducting an earth-covering experiment around his lettuces). And I handed half a dozen spare bean plants to the latest plot newcomers.

But as for Neil and the eggs, so far I haven't had a moment to ask him if he found them and maybe enjoyed them for breakfast. The difficulty is that when I go to the plots, another kind of "generosity" confronts me. You might call it the generosity of plants. Most people call them weeds. They clamor for hoeing and allow me no time to wander down the path all the way to Neil's plot.

A quick visit would be good. But Neil, like many of my fellow plotters, might be described as part of nature's generosity himself. Once he starts talking, it is something of an unstoppable verbal outgoing. It's highly entertaining, but it's hard to get away. The same is true of Wee John, Bob, Nurse Elizabeth, Betty, and ... me, I suppose. We all like a generous "blether," as the Scots term a good chat.

I've been struck this year, again, by the generosity that is part of the fabric of life at the community garden plots. Time seems different here, as if people have more of it. And they like to share it. And they like to share energy.

It was very early spring, for instance, when Bob started to wing e-mails my way. It was before I wanted to admit that the new allotment season, and the rigorous work it involves, was upon me. Would I mind, said one message, if he dug over some of my plot when he had time to spare?

I went down to have a look. The mild winter had already allowed the most extraordinary covering of grasses, thistles, and dandelions to flourish all over my plot. "Yes, please," I e-mailed back gratefully.

The next time I visited, some large parts of my plot had been boldly spaded - upturned into rough clods. You could actually see some soil now. It was greatly encouraging. But thanking Bob is not easy. He even e-mailed me one time to say "Stop saying 'thank you!' " He explained that he found digging "therapeutic." I think he finds encouraging others therapeutic. I am not the only beneficiary of his delving magnanimity. But in spite of his Scottish reticence, there are ways to repay.

He once mentioned how much he'd like to grow some anemones, and I happened to find a package of corms at home. I left them by his shed. And when we cleared out the garage, a redundant door surfaced. It is now, also, on Bob's plot. He likes old doors. He has plans for them.

As for my Brussels sprouts, I hadn't actually planned to grow any. But Big John had some plants going begging, a gift horse I couldn't look in the mouth. They are growing sturdily now, in spite of some interested caterpillars.

Big John's greenhouse had been demolished in a high wind last winter, and I happened to have a mass of greenhouse glass in the basement. So, sheet by sheet, it has been finding its way into Big John's plot. One day, he'll use them and have a greenhouse again.

Big John keeps bees (though not on his plot). Lately he's been rushing around because it's swarming season, and he wants to arrest them before they head for southern regions or another beekeeper's territory. The other day he left a handsome pot of Scottish honey in my shed. We've been mellifluously relishing it. One of Big John's favorite sayings is: "It's better to give than to receive." It sounds right. But as I told him, "I like both."

I don't like theft, though, even if I did unwittingly ask for it. A month or two ago, heading home after a spell on the plot, I poked three of my tools (a pair of shears and a stainless-steel spade and fork) through the hedge by the road where I park. It saves carrying them round to the gate. I'd planned to collect them in a few minutes. But I went and had a blether with another plotter and forgot the tools until late that night. I drove down to look for them, but they had vanished. I pinned a notice just inside the gate, informing any plotter who had kindly rescued three tools that they belonged to me in Plot 2. They haven't shown up. Perhaps Neil's maximum-security plot is the way to go. But something in me rebels at the idea. I've always left my plot open to all comers. I just need to be wiser about taking my more valuable tools home with me.

Numerous plotters asked if my tools had been returned. Finally everyone concluded that they'd been stolen. I started using a heavy old fork that creaks when its tines are plunged into the ground. The heavier, older, and tougher spade creaks and groans even more. Soon, the handles are going to snap. I miss my other tools.

About a week ago, I was watering the Sweet William and leek seedlings in my greenhouse when something caught my eye. It was a stainless steel fork. Exactly like mine, but with a black rather than a green handle. Not new, but in excellent condition. There was no note with it.

Big John knew nothing about it. Bob denied all knowledge. Wee John looked blank. I suspect I'm not meant to know who gave it to me. Maybe I'll never find out. But perhaps I really should ask Neil down in Fort Knox if he enjoyed the duck eggs - I will take my fork along with me.

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