Houtini




Here on Pig Row we are the ball in a weather table tennis match, we bounce back and forth between rain and sun, between drought and drench. Last month we were subjected to some of the worst rains I’ve seen in a long time. My wife, I and our son trundled down to the local village for the plant sale, already stripped bare the day before by overexcited souls, and a stop off at the library. We return our books, garden books, cooking books, picture books and pay the fines. We are not responsible for the fines on the books; our son is the culprit, he is the harbinger of small fines. 


Our son hides not just his books but our books too. In the last month he has hidden Monty Don, Alan Titchmarsh and Sophie Kinsella. He hides them in places that we have never found. He hides them in ways, when the books are returned by him three days after the books were due back, makes you ashamed to look Monty or Alan in the eye. He produces the books, like his lost toys in flamboyant reveal reminiscent of David Copperfield or Penn and Teller. My son has a touch of the Las Vegas magician in him. To give you an idea of how great a magician he has become, a few months ago we named him Houtini, when after a two weeks of fruitless searching for one of these books, he came up to me and pulled a full sized gardening book out of my cardigan pocket. No one believed me and by the time my wife came into the room, the book, a tower of stacking blocks and the television remote had vanished. Borrowing picture books for him from the library just doesn’t turn into a game of hide and seek but a magical journey in which you are inevitably the idiot. Therefore we accept that he hides them, that we seek them, that he laughs and that we pay the fines. Therefore, my son loves the local library, I am sure he has designs on making all the books vanish in the children’s library. There will come a day when a middle aged librarian in khaki will tap me on the shoulder in the gardening section, she will politely cough and ask me to come with here. We will walk through the door to the children’s library; there will be no books, no shelves, no children’s posters, no toys. There will be one thing and one thing only, my son, sat on the floor, laughing with his arms opened wide in a big magical reveal. The khaki librarian will then guide me to the car park where we will find the books, the shelves, the posters and the toys all wedged into her locked fiat panda and a postcard from the car keys taped to the inside of the passenger window. The postcard will be from Malaga. It is a reoccurring nightmare.

Today, Houtini’s laughter is reserved for the parents, kids and ramblers running from the library park. The heavens have opened and in less than five minutes the roads are flooded, the toddlers are soaked, the parents are moaning and ramblers are washed away. Five minutes after the downpour, the sky is blue, the sun is blazing and the streets and the people are steaming. This is what the garden has had to deal with. So, plants are not on track.

My neighbour would attest to this, she had an open garden last month in the midst of the June gap and she had to contend with rain and hailstone. She was out mowing the lawn the day before the opening, the sun was bright, there was gossip of plants for sale, of cream teas and of the charity she was doing this all for, ShelterBox (http://www.shelterbox.org/). This is a charity that saves lives in disaster zones across the world, they work globally and I advise everyone to get involved with them. Next time you look out the window and moan about British summers, be glad that it is not a disaster akin to the levies breaking in New Orleans or the flooding in Australia. A damp lawn, a punctured courgette is nothing compared to what these people do and see. Even as my neighbour mowed her grass and I potted on some plants for her open garden, fat dollops and hail slammed against the roof of the glasshouse and against my neighbour as she mowed. My neighbour yelled over the hedge, now bristling with birds fleeing the downpour, that she was not a fair weather gardener and that is the case for everyone who lives on Pig Row. The season is short, the season can be hard and the winters are nothing to us. Who cares that we are snowed in most years? We are still out in ten foot snow drifts digging out parsnips and brussel sprouts. Bad weather is not a disaster here and if it was, be grateful for charities like the wonderful ShelterBox.

The weather may have slowed down the growth of plants but it has not stopped us from enjoying the garden. As flaming June gives way to glorious July there is the promise of harvests to come, of the sweet taste of the first magical strawberry, the first gooseberry, already late but just hanging their to be taken between finger and thumb, dipped in sugar and wolfed down whole. It is only a matter of time before I catch my wife with red stained lips by the raspberries or find our son face down in the strawberry patch snaffling, his mouth a mix of mud and strawberry. No chance of any magical tricks when it comes to his food. So what if it rains? The rain will stop, the sun will appear, the ground will steam as will the gardeners who move from shed to plot, from plot to glasshouse, from glasshouse to kettle, from kettle to cake. Things at Pig Row carry on, there are fruit trees to support, fruit bushes to cover with netting to keep away the blackbirds, other pests to be controlled and the best of them all, herbs to be harvested, dried and stored for later in the year. That is the true magic of gardening, from seed to the plate.

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