Emma Townshend: ‘My horticultural new year's resolutions? I'd rather take things a day at a time...’

Emma Townshend feels very uninterested in the idea of any novel commitment associated with the month of January

Emma Townshend
Saturday 09 January 2016 03:01
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Habits to acquire: Sow a row of salad
Habits to acquire: Sow a row of salad

When I was at school, we had to learn a Latin poem called "Odi et amo" – "I hate and I love" – a tender tribute to the poet's obviously adorable girlfriend. I tell you who I hate and love: people with clear desks.

My friend Max, for example. A huge desk, yet always clear. And I don't mean there's a nice big space in the middle of it, with stuff he might need that day arranged around the edge, a carefully chosen photograph of cute children, and an in-tray only filled up halfway. No, I mean clear. Completely clear. Nothing on it. From time to time perhaps a single sheet of paper, clearly pertaining to the meeting you are just about to have with him.

You see? Fascinating, alluring, yet totally hateful. The sort of thing that stops we high-pile fans dead in our tracks, shocked. How are these clear-deskers managing without all the back-up and detritus that normally occupy a desk? They manage well, of course. For the most part, in fact, they manage better than those of us who use our desks as a never-ending, physical to-do list. If Max thinks he should ring someone about what you're talking about? He rings them. Right now, while you're sitting there. He doesn't write it on a to-do list. He just does it.

I was thinking about the clear-desk evangelists as I pondered horticultural new year's resolutions. Looking out at the garden, I feel very uninterested in the idea of any novel commitment associated with the month of January that supposes I will suddenly become a new woman, changing my tune completely, an old dog acquiring brand-new tricks. Uninterested, actually, doesn't quite cover it. I'm exhausted by the very idea.

Am I suddenly going to grow prize vegetables? Probably not. Become someone whose wisteria is trained within an inch of its life, three weeks earlier than required? Nope. Finally remember rose-pruning diktats without needing to do some revision on the internet while I hold the secateurs in my hand? Definitely not. Perhaps it's general January malaise. We have been rained into this year, with the odd sudden burst of enthusiasm from a weather god who is convinced he's doing us a massive favour. He may be working wonders for the miniature salad leaves (left) and baby hellebores I planted just before Christmas, but it's not working for me.

Yet, in the past 12 months, I've begun to think that gradual change, and constant attention every day of the year, are the only things that work for me. I joined a gym this time last year, and it was a habit that stuck. In October, I did the clutterbusting drive to surpass all drives of clutterbusting, and permanently changed my attitude to stuff. It required decision. It needed me to decide, HARD. But that's all it needed.

At least attaching garden hopes and dreams to an arbitrary length of calendar time makes more sense than other types of resolution. For of course we are ruled, when we grow stuff, by the seasons. But much garden work has nothing to do with growing: it's about mundane things such as replacing fences, coiling up hoses and sorting through piles of old plastic, child-related junk.

So nowadays I think the following: if new year's resolutions work for you, go right ahead making and keeping them. For the rest of us, let's not depress ourselves by thinking that change can take place only when locked into severe chronological mode. Don't turn over a new leaf. Look after the old one. And if you do decide that change is required, do it there and then. It may not result in a completely clear desk, but without any resolutions, trumpets or fanfares, it will be a very satisfying start.

Four more habits to acquire

Sow a row of salad

Rocket, lamb's tongue or sorrel will all flourish in the cold, albeit slowly. £3.44 for a packet of sorrel, including postage, unwins.co.uk

Pressure wash

Green slime accumulates on tiles and furniture at this time of year. Landscaping friends swear by the Nilfisk C110 and its patio-cleaning tools. £73.14, amazon.co.uk

Look after the lawn

First cut will be soon if the El Niño mildness holds: mow on the top setting and re-seed bare patches. RHS lawn seed with mycorrhizal fungi, £6.99, crocus.co.uk

Strip back

Chop what you don't like, clear ventilation grills, drains and gutters, and prune windy climbers around windows for light. Felco secateurs, £29.99, amazon.co.uk

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