Covid Gardening blues

It’s a miserable wet day at the end of August, and while I am in a more fortunate position than many, living in a nice house with a nice garden in a nice village in the nice county of Somerset, I am getting properly grumpy with Covid restrictions that I am willing to adhere to, and not getting out much. So instead of a gentle piece about the joys of gardening, I will treat myself to a rant. Line the food bin with the page when you’ve finished reading it.

Reflecting over a soothing cup of tea, it is not really about the summer weather or Covid. What is really grinding my gears is the amount of virtue signalling going on now. I am getting caught up in it too and sourdough-starter boasting on Facebook and showing off pictures of my home-grown-cucumber pickle jars. Popping over to the shop for a loaf of bread and a jar of Branston is what a normal person does.

Gardening is not the automatic occupation it once was. It was enough to keep the garden just tidy enough for the neighbours not to peer through the letterbox to see if you had died, grow some pretty flowers and a few veggies, and have a haphazardly mown lawn to sprawl on when a sunny day and a spare afternoon coincided.

Now it is more competitive, and you must be sustainable and eco-friendly and mention it frequently, ideally on Instagram. Grow vegetables – of course you must, for we are living in Hard Times and home grown veg are so much higher in nutrients for little Tarquin and Jocasta, who would rather have a packet of Monster Munch. Garden organically of course, no spraying with chemicals. Make your own compost, swathe your brassicas in old net curtains to keep the butterflies off the cabbages. This approach will not stop you having a patio of expensive imported Italian porcelain or Indian sandstone. Don’t start me on the subject of fake plastic lawns…

Organic gardening is no longer enough for your social media profile– you must now be veganic and not use animal manure on your garden. Horses poop at least 6 times a day and really don’t mind if you use it. Your compost bin is inadequate, you must get a Bokashi bin or a wormery or some expensive device for precision compost making. A well grown bug free cabbage is a fine boast, but you may be trumped by kohl rabi and black kale. If you are hardcore, you will build a straw bale dunny on your allotment and supply your own manure. This is quite safe, but a step too far for me. I promise you won’t see a photo of me peeing into the allotment bucket on Facebook, you will be relieved to hear.

You did remember to leave a few nettles for the hover flies and sow wildflowers for the bees? Not quite worthy enough, you had better evict all your double flowers and replace them with single ones, for bees cannot find their way into many double flowers.

There are plenty of double standards to enjoy. People adore wildflower planting on roundabouts and verges in spring and summer, but chunter about how tatty it looks by August. Nigel Dunnett, a god of naturalistic gardens, developed Pictorial Meadow seed.  Wild flowers are mixed with foreign species like cosmos to extend the season into September. While this is very pretty, and cheaper than traditional bedding schemes, it needs seeding every year and to prepare the ground in spring, you may need to spray the overwintered weeds, AKA wildflowers, with glyphosate before seeding again, which is hardly eco-friendly and sustainable.
Sensory gardens are all the rage, gardens to sooth the troubled soul. I would argue that all good gardens are sensory, with peace and privacy, the sound of wind in the trees and birdsong, the scent of flowers and herbs, the touch of textures of foliage. Seldom do they include thorns and spikes for H&S reasons, but pain is also a sense. I am just in the mood to design a pain garden with nettles, pyracantha, Rosa pteracantha, hornet nests and agaves. I am sure I will cheer up now summer gives way to autumn and the asters and rudbeckias bloom.