Trendiness for the Ages

"Trendy" is not the word that leaps to mind in connection with allotments.

Most allotment gardeners are contented die-hards perpetuating the traditions of what might be termed old Vernacular Horticulture. It's not that we live in the past. We merely like to keep the past going in the present. Not for us the latest much-hyped fashion-plant exorbitantly priced at the Garden Center. Or this year's garden-design fad glossily presented in coffee-table books.

Take Red's gardening philosophy. It is rooted in Canadian childhood experiences about seven decades ago. I suspect he does not avidly read today's gardening magazines. About those costly talismans of modern middle-class "trouble-free" gardening, shrubs, he is curt and scathing. And if he tries something "new," he means new to him.

For example: This year Red got several hundred freesia bulbs (cut price, allotmenteers being fierce bargain hunters). Apparently he'd never come across freesias before. "Something new," he told me with childlike pleasure. I didn't like to spoil his experiment by suggesting that this diffident plant, grown outdoors in Western Scotland beneath a welter of nasturtiums dense enough to smother triffids, stood a faint chance. When I asked him a bit mischievously the other day how his (less than visible) freesias had turned out, he said "What?" He was suddenly struck with freesia-amnesia.

I have a gardening friend, an artist, who lives on the other side of Scotland.

She comes our way periodically to draw and paint in the allotments. There are allotments nearer her home, but these she dismisses merrily as "trendy." Their trendiness, in her eyes, compares unfavorably with our ad hoc, even shoddy, allotments in Glasgow. High praise indeed.

Now while I have some difficulty imagining what a "trendy" allotment is like, the Visiting Artist is teasingly sensitive to any signs of the trendoid whatsoever and wheresoever. She faxes me today, for instance, with some "news from a Sunday magazine that 'Box [hedge] is the plant of the moment' ... and 'lavender's becoming fashionable.' "

Why did she wish me to know this? Because (a) I have planted box hedges beside my allotment paths and (b) not long ago I gave her a rooted cutting of white lavender. Clearly she feels I am developing fearsomely dangerous trendy tendencies.

And only the other week I proudly told her to look out, when she next visits our allotments, for my magnificent strips of freshly sown "green manure" (mustard and red clover), a splendid way of suppressing weeds and returning nitrogen to the soil.

On receipt of this intelligence, she instantly accused me of yet further trendification. To emphasize her point, when she next visited the plot (in my absence), she stuck a label - or should I say "libel"? - by my mustard meadow that read: "Trendy Stuff."

I am unmoved. Green manure is as old as the hills. Eighty years ago, a garden writer eulogized the "immense benefit this system of manuring confers on nearly all kinds of soil."

AS for box and lavender, both have been "fashionable" at least since Julius Caesar. Some say the Egyptians were trimming box into hedges in 4000 BC. A modern book describes lavender as commonplace, "now found in every garden" in Britain.

And composted box, in France, is traditionally valued as the best possible feed for the roots of vines.

So it seems that sheer good taste has led me to plant yet another form of green manure in my plot.

Some of us just can't help being trendy.

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