Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Lock Down

Before lock down Granddaughter Jess with one of our Australorp hens

The Best Beloved and I are like chalk and cheese and I often wonder if there’s a mischievous sprite up above joining people in matrimony who are entirely unsuited. I’m all hustle-bustle and I get everything done as soon as it occurs to me. My mouth operates at the same speed. He ( on the other hand) has made a fine art of procrastination. He has the annoying ability to put things on the back burner until he really has to act.  I think twenty-three years of knowing each other, including twenty years of co-habitation, before finally marrying tells you a lot about him. I will, but not just yet!

He’s not alone, for procrastination appears to be a male speciality, although there are exceptions. My grandson James, now 12,  has inherited my restless spirit and sparks fly when we’re together because we’re too similar. To return to he who watches and waits, several years ago I tried to order the Best Beloved a Simon Drew t-shirt in Extra Large. The picture of a rather chirpy pig was emblazoned with the following – Procrastination is the Chief of Swine. This play on ‘procrastination is the thief of time’ comes from an 18th century poem called Night Thoughts by Edward Young. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Simon Drew explained that this t-shirt had sold out within weeks. It was his best seller ( at the time) so it seems I’m not alone. Sadly Mr Drew has given up on t-shirts, but he has some fine wares on his website – all decorated with pithy logos. www.simondrew.co.uk

The aforesaid Edward Young (1683–1765), part dramatist, theologian, poet and philosopher, acknowledged the dangers of procrastination and urged his readers to ‘Be wise to-day; ’tis madness to defer’. The poem was inspired by the death of young friends and family members who’d had their life cut short. A thought as relevant today as it was then, especially when we are all worried about the effects of corona virus.

Edward Young was extremely fond of gardening and communing with nature and he inscribed the following words on the wall of his summer-house Ambulantes in horto audiebant vocem Dei. This translates as Walking in the garden, they heard the voice of God. It echoes the thoughts of Dorothy Frances Gurney (1858 –1932) who famously wrote

The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth,

One is nearer God’s

Heart in a garden

Than anywhere else on earth.

Gardening is a spiritual affair because, whatever happens in the world, the living world beats to its own rhythm. The Best Beloved and I both love gardening and in the last few weeks, with Lock Down imposed, we’ve had plenty of time to enjoy it. It’s brought out the best and the worst of our personalities. When the Biblical rains ended in March the soil was perfect for weeding. Ten days later the ground had dried out enough to plant and sow. Ten more days, following biting easterlies, the soil was too dry to weed, plant or sow.

It goes to show that timing is everything in gardening, so I’m glad I insisted on getting some crops in before the Biblical drought that always seems to follow the Biblical floods. Whatever happened to two fine days and a thunderstorm. Well, the climate changed because we’re pumping too many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Lock down, due to Covid-19, has at least cleaned up the air and hopefully made a few people think about the futility of high-speed living. Who knows, I may end up being a procrastinator too.

Vegetables at Spring Cottage

Our first joint task was planting onion sets. They failed last year, due to a cold, dry spring followed by a very hot and very dry summer. They’re ancestors were mountain dwellers so they needed early rain to emanate snow melt, followed by warm sun to swell and ripen the bulbs. I was set on growing Marshall’s Red Fen and luckily I got all my seeds and sets just after Christmas, before the virus struck. This red onion did very well on the recent RHS onion trial of 2013 and gained an AGM. I may regret it, apparently it’s not a great keeper. We planted heat-treated sets because they are less likely to bolt. Luckily we’ve planted some golden-skinned AGM onions on the allotment – including ‘Sturon’ and ‘Setton’. They keep well, as do ‘Golden Gourmet’ shallots.

You might think that planting onions was a straightforward affair. However the Best Beloved can also add mathematician and scientist to his CV! He likes to plant them quincuncially,

so that they are like five domino spots, because you can get more in – so he says ! He then leaves the weeding to me ( by deferring it until it’s worth doing) and I end up dancing a Samba with the hoe in order to weed them.  This year I’ve pulled rank and insisted that they are planted in straight lines, so that I can hoe them in a few seconds. Victory!

So far we have also planted carrots, parsnips, beetroot and peas because the weatherman said that we would have rain, although it never arrived.  I’ve insisted that the seeds we’ve planted are nurtured like new-born babies, not left to their own devices.  Normally our seeds are planted and left to wait for rain. They fail and then I go down to the garden centre to buy more seeds and overplant them because they haven’t come up!  The Best Beloved then accepts all the plaudits about what a good job he’s done. This year that can’t happen, because the garden centres are all closed and on-line seed orders are backed up for weeks. It’s now or never for our seeds!

All the extra time we’ve had means that we’re ahead with tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, sweetcorn and our cucurbits.  Our lettuce plants are in the ground. Our leeks are thinking about coming up because these cool-season plants have hated the hot weather. Just like that 18th century poet, Edward Young, I’m finding my garden a blessing in disguise and I feel for those people who are trapped inside a flat.

My Hartley Greenhouse

During lock down I have countless times to bless the fact that I have a  Hartley greenhouse. It’s has been terrific, because I’ve been able to sow my seeds and prick them out. It’s sheltered me from bitter easterlies and allowed me to witness small miracles on a daily basis, for every time some seeds germinate my heart sings. It’s pure Paul Daniels magic out there. Don’t fret about having a new car get a greenhouse instead!

Our chickens are on song too, although we are fading them out having had them for fifteen years, because we want  to get out more! After this year,  we can’t fail to get out more! We are currently down to three geriatric ladies, because our cockerel went to the rickyard in the sky a few months ago. These ladies are Australorps, short for Australian Orpingtons and they were originally imported into Australia in the 1880s. They were imported back again in the early 1920s, because they laid so many eggs down under. They didn’t repeat their performance in England however and, like many breeds, they’ve become show birds rather than utility birds. It seems that the cult of celebrity, ie. looking good but not much use, is alive and well in the poultry world. We’ve all learnt that the real heroes are working on the front line and not jollying about on Mustique. Postmen, police and National Health Workers we salute you, along with all essential workers.

Two of our remaining chickens are pure Australorp bantams and the other is a hybrid Sussex x Australorp bantam. They’re all black, glossy birds, but they’ve never been good egg layers. However this year’s lock down has seen them rise to the perch and do their best. As soon as lock down was enforced they began providing us with two or three eggs a day. They tend to lay their eggs in the afternoon, so perhaps they’re still on Southern hemisphere time. They’re noisy when they lay ( like most chickens) and we’ve noticed that we have a soprano, a mezzo soprano and an alto and they form their own choir. The Best Beloved has begun to conduct them! I hope it won’t put them off doing their duty. We need those eggs more than ever!

We’re living in strange times, but those of us who garden are seeing the flip side of the coin. Yes, I’m down to using one sheet of loo paper most of the time. Too much information I know. However I have the time to stand and stare ( from the poem Leisure by William Henry Davies), so there’s less hustle and bustle in my life at the moment. The diary is empty until late June, at least. Meanwhile the Best Beloved has gone up a gear! He’s begun to make lists of things that need doing in the garden. The greenhouse guttering has been fixed.

Who knows, by the end of lock down we may even be singing off the same hymn sheet, just like our chickens, thanking God for greenhouses and gardens.

Keep safe and keep gardening!