Tom Hodgkinson: 'Maybe I'll postpone the weeding for a bit'

 

Share
Related Topics

March is with us and a countryman's thoughts turn to his vegetable patch. There is a lovely old medieval poem which assigns a certain outdoor task to each month, and the line for March is: "Here I sette my thynge to sprynge," which means, "Now I sow my seeds." For the full jaunty early-English effect, by the way, make sure you pronounce the final "e" in "sette", "thynge" and "sprynge".

Well, I'm afraid to report that I have not yet set one single thynge to sprynge in my vegetable patch. In fact, the garden is looking woefully unkempt, as it has not felt the cleave of iron since before Christmas, when I dug up a few parsnips. It weighs over me heavily, this neglected corner of north Devon, and my remorse is made worse every other week when I travel by train to London and stare at the beautifully kept railside allotments around Bristol, Swindon and Reading.

The problem is that the longer I leave the vegetable patch, the worse it gets, and the more I dread tackling it. I'm caught in a vicious circle of laziness, procrastination and ever-spreading weeds. This is just the sort of trap warned against by Virgil in his great gardening poem "The Georgics", where he writes: "Unless you harry the weeds with unrelenting mattock... alas too late you will eye your neighbour's ample store."

But there always seems to be some excuse for neglect. Generally it is the weather. "I'll go and sort it out when the weather improves," I will say. Well, today I look out of my study window and the weather does seem to be improving. But then today I've loads of work to get done. Added to which, it is important for my mental health to take a nap. So maybe I'll postpone the digging and weeding and sowing until tomorrow.

One trick that can work is to be under-ambitious. In the past I have said to myself: "I'll just go up there and do 20 minutes with the fork and spade." Inevitably, I will end up doing more than 20 minutes. But if I tell myself: "Right, I'll do a whole day and really get it sorted out," then I do absolutely nothing.

They say it is better to do a little a day, where gardening is concerned, than a lot occasionally. To do half-an-hour a day would be far more productive, pleasurable and efficient than to put in four hours on a Sunday, or, worse, eight hours every other Sunday. The problem is that this way of working is diametrically opposed to my natural inclination. The Idler magazine was inspired by an essay by Dr Johnson where he confessed that his working method was to do absolutely nothing for long periods and then to write his piece at great speed seconds from the deadline. Then he would go to the pub.

As this was exactly how I worked, I decided that it clearly was not an evil way of doing things, nor an unproductive one, and therefore I would celebrate the idea of paroxysms of diligence interspersed with long loafing sessions.

Well, this is all right for journalism, but not for gardening, which demands regular habits, or indeed retail – in which I also dabble – which demands long hours. Clearly I need to start a new magazine called The Toiler to reflect my changing situation. The other point to make about a garden is that I had always supposed it to be an Edenic retreat and not the cause of toil and anxiety. Thankfully, though, this dream is to become a reality at the Idler Academy.

As part of the new Chelsea Fringe, a brilliant gardener named Angela Newman is going to give our little London grove a medieval makeover. The Idler's Grove, as it will be called, is based on the "herber", the kind of small enclosed garden to which someone such as Eleanor of Aquitaine would retire to discuss love with a couple of randy troubadours. Our grove will feature bench-seating and sweet-smelling herbs and will be up and running in May.

And this time I have worked things out well: someone else is going to do all the work, while I merely direct matters from a distance, and then enjoy the fruits – literally, as we have a vine in the garden.

When at home, though, I shall revert to the peasant's life and till my own patch. For while William Morris may have been exaggerating somewhat when he said that "there are few men... who would not wish to spend part of their lives in the most necessary and pleasant of all work, cultivating the earth", the satisfaction of eating one's own produce is immense and should not be forgotten.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer  

It's not just air conditioning that's guilty of camouflage sexism

Mollie Goodfellow
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks