This is the heath not two weeks ago. It was a glorious winter's day. One for letting the sun deceive you.
November has been quite a month. There has been no progress in the garden, but walks with Willow have been made all the more enjoyable by mild weather and the pleasure of watching trees turn from greens to ochres and umbers.
I'm remarkably chippa for someone who has missed their deadline. As a result of not working hard enough, I have a hole where my garden should be. Willow is in good spirits because he is always in good spirits being the thoroughly spoilt hound that he is. Every morn as we walk the heath, he trots up a hello to swans that hiss and spit, beautiful though they might be. 'They ought to be friends, having long necks' a fellow rambler observes. The swans seem less keen. It matters not, for there are cheerier souls for Willow to meet. Such as this fellow below.
When Willow runs, the earth strikes hollow beneath his pads as if hampstead heath is giant grass-topped sponge ready to stain paws moss-green. I often put them to nose and have a sniff. Why? you ask. Ondaatje puts it very well, so I have borrowed this from The English Patient:
'Whenever her father was alone with a dog in a house he would lean over and smell the skin at the base of its paw. This, he would say, as if coming away from a brandy snifter, is the greatest smell in the world! A bouquet! Great rumours of travel! She would pretend disgust, but the dog's paw was a wonder: the smell of it never suggested dirt. It's a cathedral! her father had said, so-and so's garden, that field of grasses, a walk through cyclamen - a concentration of hints of all the paths the animal has taken during the day'.
Well, the heath is my cathedral. Look at it! Look!
Look again! For it is never the same...
As for the garden, it would have saved a lot of time when starting this blog had I simply predicted failure. The September deadline is long gone and with it any realistic chance of having vegetable beds ready before New Year. So there you have it. I stand before you with nothing to offer. All I have is this pencil drawing of what the garden may possibly look like if I won the lottery:
I lie! I do have some news: a new deadline! March 22nd. I have chosen this date as it is the one on my ticket to the Chelsea Flower Show 2012, and I don't intend to go there without a vegetable garden ready to fill with the inspiration I garner from it. I am ebay-ing to help fund said inspiration, so here's hoping that there are people out there willing to pay handsomely for 80s attire.
I have also been busy reading and drinking wine. About the drinking of wine I shall blog about later, as it has involved a number of wine pilgrimages which I wish to share with you, dear reader. As for the reading, I bought, in a spate of enthusiasm, all of Joy Larkcom's books to help me along with my vegetable garden of the future. Her chapter on good soil & manure in Grow Your Own Vegetables has been very useful. I read it religiously over Yom Kipur whilst atoning for sloth.
I have also been riddling. Now before you imagine me in oral mode, challenging innocents with quips like 'what has two legs in the morning and none by eve', may I tell you that by riddling I mean the activity of using an implement to do to soil more or less what a sieve does to flour. This is my riddle and the details of where I bought it can be read about here.
The task of riddling is incredibly time-consuming.
So if the earth is the earth is the earth, why riddle? The major benefit is that you get to know your soil intimately. You get a feel for the texture and a better understanding of its characteristics. This being London, my soil is clay laden. I find clumps of the stuff that smudge turmeric between my fingers. It is heavy, clotted and cold. Joy believes it a good thing to have, as long as it is fine, so I break it up as best I can and return it to the beds.
To bring you up to speed, I have emptied 2 of my 3 borders of soil so that I might improve the soil before returning it to raised beds. I have 7 tonnes of soil to sift, and haven't even begun emptying border 1 yet.
The soil is full of old roots which have to come out. These are the remnants, I suppose, of plants that did not make it. I have a dustbin full of them.
Then there are the worms, which, in order to save from being riddled, have to be teased out slowly from clumps.
And then there are the pebbles to expunge. I always knew my soil was pebble-laden and these are being reused as a base at the back of the garden, over which I shall smooth cement, so that my greenhouse has somewhere to sit.
Riddling is hard work. And despite Joy's wisdom, as I sift away, I do wonder what ever possessed me to begin this project. And as the days draw shorter, there's the horrific temptation to leave the fallow field unsown... the darker it gets the better, so I shan't see the mess I've made. Greek neighbours don't seem to mind. A few days ago, mid-riddle, they hailed me from their porch door with cheers of 'very good' and gifted a bag of apples from their tree. They cannot wait for the large eucalyptus in border 1 to go. They told me so, before gifting apples. Their vine also needs taking back, or removing entirely, as it has encroached our garden by a foot at least, pushing in the fence with it... so I shall not tell them I intend to cut the eucalyptus down, but trade with them: eucalyptus goes if vine goes. But more of that later.
Riddling does make for a lovely soil. But it does not end there: I finished Joy's chapter convinced of the necessity to procure 'good' poo.The manure needs be mixed with my riddled soil so that the soil may in turn become humus rich and attract lots of worms. The worms will then look after my garden for me. The more the worms, the better your soil, the better your vegetables. Or something like that. So as I riddle away, even though the end is nowhere in sight, I know I am doing probably the most important job I could do.
Whilst on the subject of poo, apparently a double-dip recession heads our way. With economic forecasts described as 'bleak', I shall continue to riddle, walk the heath, and read Walden to prepare myself for days living off beans.