Combating mediocrity in the modern world…


Plans for the garden this Spring

Well, it seems that the gardening season is well and truly upon us here in South East England. I know the danger of frost isn’t completely gone, as we can still get the occasional freak cold snap in March, but the mild climate down here makes regular cold spells unlikely. We had such a warm March and April last year that hardening off the seedlings only took a couple of days – and that’s from being grown indoors on a bright windowsill. There were times when I didn’t even bother to harden the seedlings off, it was warm enough to just put them straight outside! I’m not expecting this Spring to be quite as warm as last year, but even without the warm weather, it’s still mild enough to get outside and start doing some work.

Plant support

These plant supports can be very easily made at home.

Now I’m a great believer in the value of preparation in the garden. The more preparation I can do now, the less remedial work I will need to do later in the season. I’ve already got the plant supports up around some of the perennials in the garden – something which I didn’t get round to doing last year and ended up regretting. I use generic climbing support which comes in a roll. Cut it to size and form it into a cylinder then wire the overlap together to make sure it keeps its shape. Then I just thread bamboo canes through the mesh and into the ground around taller perennials. It saves having to make messy supports later in the season. The plants will grow through the mesh and hide it somewhat so that by the time summer comes around, everything will be fairly tidy and you won’t notice the supports as much. It also has the effect of discouraging cats from digging up newly planted perennials.

As I have mentioned in my previous blog post, I have a large project to be getting on with this year, so I’ll mainly be concentrating on bare maintenance in the rest of the garden. That still leaves quite a lot of maintenance work to do though. A lot of my plants are in containers which means that they’ll need top dressing and feeding this Spring. It’s still a little early for my liking to do this just yet – while things are beginning to emerge, I prefer to leave it until the end of March / beginning of April when things are really beginning to get going. There shouldn’t be too much growth at that time, which makes top dressing easier, and the plants will be starting to return to proper growth and will take advantage of the added nutrition.

Normally I would be getting on with soil improvement around this time of year as well, and I’ll certainly be digging in lots of compost into the top border which I’m renovating, but I’ll do that as I go along. The only other border in the garden is a raised bed next to the wine terrace. I’m not going to do much in the way of soil improvement in that border this year; it was only replanted last Spring / Summer so I’m going to allow it to get established before I start disturbing things. I’ll probably give the roses a slow-release feed this year (I usually dig a shallow “trench” around the plants, scatter some fish blood & bone into it, then lightly work it into the soil before backfilling and tidying), but most of the rest of the plants should be able to cope with the soil which was conditioned when they went in last year.

I’m also cutting down on the seedlings this year. I grew a lot of stuff from seed last year, including some interesting vegetables from Franchi seeds. They have a very interesting range of unusual vegetables and although the packets cost a little more than others, they are very reliable germinators and you get a lot  of seeds in the packets, so they’re great for sharing with other gardeners. I’m expecting fairly dry conditions again this year, so I’m not going to grow as much in the way of thirsty vegetables. Even though I have two water butts (both of which are up to the brim at the moment), I know that I will soon be praying for rain! My concession is that I might pick up a couple of soft fruit bushes which can go in the top border and undergo a strict regime of neglect until late summer.

Well, that’s probably more than enough to keep everyone interested in what’s happening in the garden today, so I’d better get off out and start the proper work. There’s lots to do.

A brief confession

I have something to confess. I am a smoker. I am a smoker who loves smoking. I’ve been smoking since I was about 17 (although not “properly” smoking and inhaling until a couple of years later…). That means that I’ve smoked for the whole of my adult life – more than 20 years.

I. Just. Love. Smoking. If I were a poet, I would write an ode to tobacco. If I were a painter, I would paint someone smoking a cigarette, trying to capture that romantic love of tobacco which occasionally makes itself overtly obvious, and which lurks behind the big knot of personal neuroses the rest of the time. It is part of my very being. My identity relies upon it. My day is imbued with it.

My life wouldn’t be the same without it. I love all of the different forms of smoking: cigarettes, cigars and even the pipe. I love all of the different rituals around smoking: when to smoke, how to smoke, what brand of cigarettes someone smokes. I am fascinated by all of the paraphernalia which accompanies smoking: elegant lighters, sophisticated cigarette cases lovingly crafted from precious metals, rolling tobacco, pipe tampers and cleaning instruments. These are all part of the activity of smoking.

I'm fascinated by all the paraphernalia of smoking

I'm fascinated by all the paraphernalia of smoking

I have tried giving up smoking a few times in the past and always ended up miserable without my cigarettes. I felt lost without them. My brain became foggy. I was unable to concentrate. I seemed to become more stupid without them. I felt like a part of my soul had been removed and I was grieving for my loss. It’s as if cigarettes somehow complete me.

And I’m not ashamed of my love for cigarettes either. I feel no sense of guilt in indulging my senses with a packet of cigarettes. Smoking is one of the new social taboos, frowned upon by righteous health evangelists. I resent other people trying to dictate to me what choices I can or cannot make, and I resent the frowns and snide remarks from disapproving micro-dictators who want to control every aspect of my life. I have made the choice (yes, it’s an informed one and I’m aware of the risks) to smoke. The key point here is that it’s a choice. I don’t enforce my smoking (either active or passive) on others, so what’s the issue?

I know that smoking carries a wide range of health risks, but as my dear old Ma says: “You pick your window, don’t you?”. The Government seems to be trying to reduce the number of adults and young children who smoke, but the fact is that the UK economy would crumble if it weren’t for us smokers. An item in The Spectator last year cited the tax revenue from tobacco to be around £9.3bn, while the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses was around £2.7bn. That’s a net income of £6.6bn into the government’s coffers. Do the politicians really want to go for an outright ban on smoking? I sincerely doubt it.

This points to the suggestion that smoking can be a consciously political act. It is at the same time rebellious (against the anti-smoking campaigners) and conformative (as far as the proceeds of tobacco duty are knowingly paid to HMRC or whichever body is legislated to collect tax on behalf of different Governments). I’m not quite sure whether I’m a rebellious smoker or a conformative smoker. For the moment I’ll just call myself a romantic smoker.