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THIS MUCH I KNOW OPINION.

Byline: Lynne Barrett-Lee

OH dear, my garden. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Though, in my defence, Rome wasn't built in a day. Or, to stick it back where it's most etymologically pure, Rome ne s'est pas faite en un jour, which linguistic diversion isn't quite as random as it might seem.

It's from the French, see (did you spot that?) rather than the Italian, and that's because it was coined not by a ditherer in a toga, but by a 12th-century Gallic vilain.

And, as you'll also know if you're up on your medieval history, vilains are to Gaul what villeins are to Britain i.e. they are growers of things in rows par excellence.

Which is what I used to be, too - back in the almost-medieval era, anyway.

An era that spanned the window box just south of Brixton and continued, through three interim small-garden epochs, right up till the early 21st century when, much like the dinosaurs, they died out due to catastrophic events beyond my control.

I say I. I daren't say "we" or Pete would kill me.

Pete still gardens as much as he ever did.

He sweeps, he mows, he collects fallen branches (we have lots of fallen branches), he digs, he weeds, he leaf-blows and so on, and when he's not doing it here he drives to our caravan and does all of the above there instead.

(Well, bar the branches. For "branches" read "driftwood", collected at my request, for no particular reason except aesthetics.) Anyway, the point is that I only rarely do my bit.

Once or twice a year I wake up and think "bulbs!" or "summer bedding!" so predictably you could set your watch by it.

So off we toddle, to whichever garden centre is currently doing the best cake, to buy bulbs and/or summer bedding and, while Pete digs, sweeps and leaf-collects, as per usual, I fanny around, creating artfully themed pots.

And that's it. That's the sum of my current gardening contribution.

Well, bar my other major gardening contribution (no, that's fine, you're welcome) which involves sitting on our decking and starting sentences with the words "you know, it would be good if we" and finishing with, variously, "dug up the lawn and re-turfed it", "built a rockery, just THERE", "thought about re-painting the patio furniture", "installing a fire pit, for parties" and "no, really, HONESTLY, dig up the entire lawn and re-turf, as it would make life soooo much easier for you, darling".

I know. It's a miracle I still have all my teeth.

But, in my defence. I currently suffer from major garden ennui, chiefly down to the fact that our current one is just too bloody awkward. It's too big, it's on a slope, it sports a swamp-inducing culvert, it's an SSSI for all 78 species of northern European moss, and is ringed by about an orchard's worth of irritating "protected" trees, which, being protected, and therefore rather full of themselves, like to shower us with offerings - namely leaves, sticky bud things, truly biblical plagues of pollen, and lengths of branch, which they prefer to hurl mostly at my car.

Then there are the seedlings.

Have you ever gardened beneath massed seed-bearing trees? No? You should come down to ours and try it.

One day, you've prepared a bed - all brown and damp and friable.

Next you have a Mesozoic rainforest floor, with all the abundance of flora and fauna that implies.

Which is fine if teeming undergrowth is the look you're after.

But if you just want somewhere to sling a collection of hardy perennials, it is not, even if, out of necessity, you have carefully chosen said perennials with careful observance of the rules in "aquatic gardener".

There was a time, long ago, when our garden lives were simpler.

So much so that I grew all my bedding from seed, had a greenhouse, a proper rockery, and a vegetable garden too.

When I grew three types of lettuce, the best runner beans ever, delphiniums like triffids, luminous drifts of gentians, and knew the Latin name of everything from antirrhinum to zinnia and the best way to propagate a regal pelargonium.

As for now though - well, I've decided that there's only one solution.

Get an allotment (see page 15). A teeny patch of flat earth that's mine to quietly cultivate.

In short, become a kind of modern day medieval villein myself. One who didn't much fancy Rome in the first place.

@LYNNEBARRETTLEE www.lynnebarrett-lee.com

Once or twice a year I wake up and think 'bulbs!' or 'summer bedding!'
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 5, 2014
Words:766
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