Why the delight? Part II

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So here’s the 2019 onion crop in a bag and waiting to go to the bin. Generally we recycle everything we grow on the allotment except where plants appear to be diseased – which the onions certainly did. In fact all the alliums this year, autumn and spring planted alike, semed to keel over to the same problem.  Possibly eelworm, white rot who knows.  My theory is that either the sets were the result of a very stressed growing season last summer, or that after planting they suffered more stress in the ground on the allotment.  Who can tell? But it’s infuriating that this so-called “easy crop” has failed twice in two years. Which leads me to the Part II title.

Yesterday I went big on the pleasures of gardening and its effect on our sense of wellbeing, but there’s another side to gardening that we simply can’t ignore. Crops fail, pests invade and consume them, and monster micro-organisms like blight can destroy a crop in days. Gardening/allotmentering isn’t a primrose path – even at the Potwell Inn.

So is this just the counterbalance to too much ‘delight’? Is every ointment obliged to have a fly in it? Can failure and disease ever make a contribution to our wellbeing?

The clue, I think, lies in the very last words from yesterday’s posting – the quote from Neitzsche – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Suffering can never be good for you, and aside from some fairly specialised preferences will hardly lead to delight – but – when things go wrong on the allotment they’re rarely if ever going to do you any huge damage.  It can make you sad, uncomfortable or even ashamed if, like us, you prune a grape vine too late and it starts to bleed sap, pints of the stuff!

But I’ll put my money on gardening increasing our resilience and therefore able to help us ride the more serious stuff that happens to us. On the allotment, often I think we’re practicing a set of emotional skills that we can apply elsewhere.  Add to that time to think, time to meditate if you like and the argument that gardening increases our wellbeing becomes overwhelming. Somewhere within it there’s a spirituality that I’m content to leave unnamed.

I’ve always tried to keep this blog real. I can’t stand the style maazines and seed catalogues that suggest it’s all a breeze use uses the word ‘fantastic’ in every sentence.  For me ‘fantastic’ is first cousin to ‘fantasy’, and what we create in a garden is real, not fantasy.

To finish, though, on a brighter note, when the vegetables start to ripen and we get to taste them the question inevitably comes up – do they taste better? By the time we got back from the allotment yesterday we were too tired to cook, but earlier – in the morning I’d made a big batch of pesto and so I cooked some linguini and that was supper. Whenever food scientists try to answer the flavour question I’m pretty sure they grab a bag of organic whatever, and a bag of its non-organic equivalent and test them against one another. Both will have travelled hundreds if not a thousand miles in a refrigerated lorry and sat around in a supermarket distribution warehouse and, surprise surprise, you can’t tell the difference.

They should do the comparison with today’s pesto, or fresh peas straight off the vine.  There’s the delight!

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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