I’m reminded of an old joke by the great John Betjeman who went to a lecture entitled ‘The Joy of Reading’ only to find it was not about Trollope or Dickens, but actually about the Brutalist post war architecture of that well known Berkshire town. So I’ve been contemplating the joy of weeding, which is not to be confused with the pleasure of a good book as enjoyed by Bertie Wooster.
Orchard House has a new garden. That is a new to me, garden. The previous occupant, now sadly departed this earthly plot, was unable to maintain it to a weed free standard for – judging by the length of the brambles – about three years.
I tackled first the south facing bed in the outer courtyard. It was a mass of sweet coltsfoot, or butter burr as some people call it. ‘Petasites’ is how Pomona might have referred to it and what an interesting weed it is. Native Americans used it for the treatment of sick headaches and indeed it is a reputable migraine remedy. In England its wide fleshy leaves were used to wrap pats of butter as they were taken to market. And we’re not talking here about those hideous foil wrapped articles familiar to hoteliers everywhere. Butter burr was wrapped around 1lb slabs of deep yellow farmhouse butter, oozing with buttermilk and heavy with salt.
That was a Proustian moment – an early memory. Two elderly women – sisters, a cold farmhouse dairy and holding on tight to my Grandfather’s hand as he negotiated the purchase of several pounds of decorated golden bars of the lovely stuff, then spreading it on warm bread and watching it melt onto my fingers.
I find weeding quite exciting. Tracking the thick fleshy roots to their source deep in the earth, hoping they don’t break off as you tug on them. Seeing the shimmer of a ground beetle as it runs under the hedge, saving the worms and reburying them. I like the feeling of me, my fork and the good earth all in harmony. I like the anticipation of the bed of courgettes that will follow.
Then home for another Proustian moment. Standing by the sink watching my father wash and scrub his hands after a day in the garden. ‘Do a bit. Sit a bit.’ That’s what he used to say and I’ve been following his advice.
I hope you have sown your heavenly tomatoes already Dad.
I like spring.