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Emma Townshend: 'Where to start when you have all the time in the world? Prepare a gardening to-do list'

'Gardening leave' is that polite term for the enforced rest you get when you give in your notice and work tells you not to bother coming back at all

Emma Townshend
Saturday 05 March 2016 23:56
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Emma has been meaning to grow sorrel since last summer
Emma has been meaning to grow sorrel since last summer

I have a colleague who is currently writing a gardening book. “And I’m not getting very much gardening done,” she remarks, sourly. That’s the thing; often, you have to have a certain kind of free time on your hands actually to make it out into your own garden. Another friend just landed his dream job, but has similar concerns: “I haven’t seen the spring arriving; there are all these buds and blossoms I’ve missed out on. It’s really frustrating.”

“Gardening leave” is that polite term for the enforced rest you get when you give in your notice and work tells you not to bother coming back at all. When you are frantically busy and having a sort of mini-coronary about the piles on your desk, it always sounds rather desirable. That slow, pondering time to stop and stare. To look at blossom. But when it’s foisted upon you, it’s easy to find yourself wishing you were back on regular office hours. Where the grass is, rather ironically, greener.

I may have a bit more time to garden over the next few months, and here are some things I plan to do.

First of all, I’m going to feed the roses. My roses are hard workers, and they are consequently also what we call, horticulturally, “gross feeders”. In normal circumstances, I’d plump for a lot of manure, but a couple of roses have now been neatly hemmed in by a pale stone terrace that I don’t want to stain with cow poo. So they are going to get lovely old-fashioned chemicals instead.

Second, I’m going to attempt to go round the whole garden centre, pick up the aforementioned rose food, and not buy anything else. If you’re interested, I’ll let you know via Twitter how that fool’s errand works out for me.

Third, I’m going to work out how to spend more time outside, in general. I want to figure out a way to bask in the sunshine (when there is sunshine) in a way I am happy to do in a public park but never seem to manage in the luxury of my own garden. It may involve buying an actual bona-fide park bench. Now that would be weird.

And I’m going to grow sorrel. I’ve been meaning to grow sorrel (pictured) since last summer. I ordered a packet of seed, then I didn’t sow it. I’m going to grow sorrel, and basil, too, if I can sneak it past the local mollusc population. And I’m determined to figure out the storage issue. You know, the thing about the bikes and the scooters and the pressure washer and the garden fork. I may actually even do the pressure-washing. There must be a way of doing it that isn’t horrendous, and again, when I’ve figured it out, I’ll take to Twitter.

Finally, I’m going to spend a lot of time in other people’s gardens, chatting to them about what they grow, and why they’re doing it. I think gardening should be utterly pleasurable. I’m always most interested when I’m finding out what somebody else imagines growing, what they imagine enjoying, and talking about how to make that happen. Some friends in south London have just bought a Span-style 1970s house, and they want to have a chat about the garden. For the first time in months, I have time to travel all the way to SE whatever from my W address to do it.

Until I get a phone call about a book that needs doing, that is; a really lovely-sounding book, with wonderful photographs, about a set of gardens I’ve adored all my grown-up life. With a pay cheque attached and everything. Gardening leave, lovely; but thank god for work.

You can find Emma Townshend tweeting at @anicegreenleaf

Four to try: Tools of the trade Emma is eyeing up

David Austin Rose Food

Devised by the king of rose breeders to be the perfect balance of NPK fertiliser with other essential trace elements. £6.99, davidaustinroses.co.uk

Sorrel

Thompson & Morgan sells a fancy red-veined sorrel that will brighten up salads, as well as bringing that intense lemony flavour. £2.29 for 300 seeds, thompson-morgan.com

Pressure washer

My landscaping friends eschew the obvious choices in favour of this slightly less well-known but highly reliable brand: the Nilfisk C110. From £69.99, amazon.co.uk

Proper chunky park bench

Don't come cheap, even online. A traditional teak version is £699, but would survive the apocalypse. Or small children. Whichever's worse. parkbenches.org.uk

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