The Plot So Far, Gardeners' Gold

In spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. At any time of year a gardener's fancy turns to thoughts of ... well, how can I put this without offending the fastidious?

The thing is, one of my dreams has come true. After 18 years of urban living, I once again own, against the corrugated-iron fence that divides my plot from Red's, a proper heap of the stuff. Monty gave me the phone number of a farmer who supplies the best bovine version. I ordered a cartload. Marvellous.

If you're not a gardener, you'll never understand. It's like gold. And on my plot it's showing its worth in the form of a row of broad beans to write home about.

Big Ted came over to my plot the other day to discuss leeks. When he saw the beans, he said: "You'll have some good stuff under 'em, I bet!"

Good stuff.

Even in these times of plain speaking, the common name among gardeners for the "good stuff" is still a euphemism: manure. "To manure," the verb, came from the Old French "manouvrer." It meant to occupy, manage, or cultivate land.

The Yorkshire farmers I knew called it "muck." The rather basic machinery used to layer it over the fields to the general benefit of the herbage and the dubious benefit of noses, was simply a "muck-spreader."

A friend points out that the world has changed so much over the last half century that such things as manure hardly impinge on the daily life of most people, particularly urbanites. All they see is filth and odor. Even if they garden, it is possible to purchase (at an astounding price) a plastic bag of concentrated "manure" with its smell reduced. Long gone are the days the same friend recalls, when she was a small child in Bath, England, and the housewives on their street kept an ear open for passing horses. If her mother heard hooves, she'd say "Pam, quick! Give me the shovel!" and rush out to scoop up the fallen richesse. Readiness was all. Neighborhood competition was hot.

Chats with some plot-holders suggests that manure is at the very root of their interest in gardening. Monty, as a little girl, instinctively went into the field behind her house to collect cow offerings for the home patch. Tommy, who works a plot near Monty's, was a child in shipbuilding Govan. He collected horse droppings despite local incomprehension.

I have not been unknown to rescue deposits left in the park by groups from the riding school.

I like the euphemistic names. Its horticultural beneficence deserves better than street slang. A New England colleague tells me her dad always called it "road apples." "Horse apples" is another American term, and even cow (or buffalo) chips. A friend from the English northeast, when she and David moved into their house near Edinburgh, were told by their neighbor that the previous incumbent, Joe, "had left us a water barrel with 'sheep's pearls' infused in it." Only pig and chicken manure seem (understandably) without pet names.

My own polite name, coined in print years ago though never used since, is "potential." My delphiniums, sweet peas, and beans are blessed with much potential.

* A biweekly series on a municipal garden in Glasgow.

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