Captain of my windy rows

At lunchtime this day of Our Lord 9/9/99 did I return from the plot in distinctly nautical frame of mind. Phrases drifted back from the sea stories of my boyhood - like "pull hearty lads" and "splice the main brace!" and "yare" and "put 'im in the scuppers" and "pack up and go for'ard" and "hove to" and such like and so forth.

It's funny how words barely remembered (and never actually understood) leap to mind in evocative circumstances. Another phrase, which perfectly suited this bright and gusty morning, was "the wind was freshening rapidly."

As I let myself in at the main gate, Red disappeared into his shed.

Indeterminate sounds followed - clunk, bang, thump. Then he emerged carrying three bricks.

"Good morning, young man," I said.


Our chat moved from bricks to manure to sand to carrots as only conversations between plotters can. Logical to us, without rhyme or reason to others. Then from the state of his carrots we moved on to "trying things out," and from there to "learning from experience."

"One thing I've learned this year," I said, gesturing over the intervening fences toward my patch, "is that bamboo canes are not really tall enough for climbing beans." I looked across at my bean row as I spoke.

It was not there. A 10-foot long and nine-foot high screen of stems and leaves and beans two days ago - now thin air.

So it was with a certain curiosity that I pushed my way into my plot. It transpired that I had not, in fact, been raided by bean burglars. Three-quarters of my bean vines, once vertically oriented, were now horizontally declined, a green eiderdown blanketing rows of cabbages, shallots, beets, carrots, and onions. A contentious sou'wester, it seemed, had mistaken my bean row for the sail of a clipper ship, bellowed unstintingly into it, and, at breaking point, capsized it utterly.

Bean vines are pliant. Nothing had snapped except my bamboo canes. But the wind was still boisterous, and it was during my somewhat wafted attempts to resecure the row against future blasts that the nautical lingo started to assail me.

I have never been involved in sailsmanship except in terms of such juvenile fiction as the "Horatio Hornblower" classics, but I felt this morning a kinship. It was as if a touch of Sea Wolf heroics had descended upon me as I hoisted and heaved, and gallantly rerigged the beans with extra canes and lengths of green garden string tied to the surrounding wire fences. In reality, my nearest past experience to this was pegging down an Army surplus tent on an exposed Welsh hillside while camping in my misspent youth.

Anyway, once the handiwork was finished, the vines might (botanically speaking) be described as approximately "erectum" instead of "prostratum," and I was able to pick a sackful of surprisingly undamaged beans to carry home.

One reason I invested recently in a copy of "Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book" (The American Philosophical Society, 1944) was to find a passage referred to by some American colleagues during a visit to our home garden.

It seems Jefferson had perceived meaning and poetry in the different rhythmic ways wind moves in different trees. I loved the image, and have enjoyed the invasion of furious air currents in a new and less anxious frame of mind since. (I haven't yet found the quotation in the book, though.)

But wouldn't even Jefferson have protected his vegetables against gales?

Wind in aspens and maples is one thing. But as to beans, I really would be more content if it were to confine itself to the mid-Atlantic.

Where real mariners know all the right words. And then some.

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

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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