Our ‘Guernsey Gardener in London’, Paul Savident is in reflective mood as he prepares to move house...
MARCH is a very apt word for the month just gone, as 31 dawns and dusks have passed by in seemingly no time at all. Even so, we continue marching on with the jobs that need doing, and in our case those jobs have brought about the first significant change in what’s to happen at the allotment. The old adage ‘In like a lion, out like a lamb’ has also shown the Farmer’s Almanac to be wrong this year, as though time has marched, the weather’s been pretty consistent – days of glorious sunshine, blue sky and fluffy white clouds warm enough to work on the plot with just jeans, two T-shirts and my sturdy boots, and other more frequent times of such deeply chilling cold and rain and hailstones that thermals, two long-sleeved shirts, a fleece and a body warmer had little chance of preventing the bite of winter diving deep to my bones - and that’s even though it’s now spring.
‘The time has come, the walrus said…’, though in my case it wasn’t a walrus, rather my partner Richard, though his height can be as imposing as a walrus when he wishes.
We’ve decided the time has come to put our west London house on the market. We’ve been here almost 20 years, and in the nearby area for another decade more. Not surprisingly in that time a lot has changed, both in terms of our lives and the area. We’ve truly been fortunate and lucky to live where we have done for the past decades. Fortunate as we worked hard to be able to initially buy our one-bedroom workers’ cottage just over a mile away which set us up as homeowners, and lucky to have bought our current home from honest people who shook hands on a deal and did not renege when others were trying to gazump. Both our homes have had good sized gardens for London, though being offered a small growing space at the William Hobbayne Community Gardens pre-Christmas 2014 and moving to our current allotment site in late 2016 were two of the opportunities I took that have brought a different aspect to my life – one of challenge, joy, and satisfaction, and of course I talk of growing, gardening and allotmenteering. Both growing spaces are only a few minutes’ walk away from our front door, though each has taken me a million miles away from the stresses and strains of daily life, and no more so than during this wildly anxious time of preparing to move house.
As a young boy in Guernsey, I was oblivious to the challenges of moving home. I guess that is how life is. As children we’re often unaware of the happenings and anxiety around us and simply go with the flow or get dragged along as things happen (solely metaphorically, of course). This, I’m sure, was how it was when, in the early 1970s our family moved from Martyndale, St Peter’s to Le Pignon, Castel, and then again to Basmarie at Grandes Rocques in the mid-80s. Our homes changed, our gardens changed, and following a family tragedy in my mid-teens our lives changed too, though the garden was always a place of solace, a place to do and just be. There was always work to be done for the plants to grow and flourish and allow the beauty and joy of flowers and tomatoes and palms and Dad’s bowling green-class lawns to amaze. I remember vividly Mum and Dad going about their individual garden tasks, which were never written in stone and possibly never even discussed - they just got on with the growing and gardening in a perfect balance, a symbiotic balance between two people, and another between them and their garden. Despite the tragedy that cast a dark shadow over all the lives of our family, the garden was a source of safety, of relief and of distance bringing to each of us a quietness and stilling of the mind, even though a single footstep from the back door.
Now, 40-odd years later my partner and I are in that state of flux that a house move brings. There are paint tins and brushes around and about, half-filled moving boxes, countless wooden and plastic hangers that will make their way to a charity shop, and items scattered on the floor of my office and other rooms that wait patiently for a place to reside or to be posted on a local Facebook group and offered free to others. Quiet, organised chaos will reign for a few weeks more, then hopefully order, and calm and perfect staging to allow our home to shine.
And through all of this, is the allotment – my quiet space, and a place to rebalance – though unsurprisingly the action of clearing clutter at home is now also making its way to the plot.
As we moved through March, I found myself subconsciously thinking about the tools, structures, and paraphernalia on the plot that I’d want to take with me. Subsequently, I also mulled what I could do without and to whom I might pass an item on if it still had life in it. Of course, there’s no point giving something broken or with little use to another. I no longer abide by the old saying that ‘One man’s junk is another man’s treasure’, time has taught me too well that more often than not one man’s junk is simply another man’s junk.
I’ve three really sturdy wooden benches which will definitely be coming with me. They’ll need dismantling, which will need a Phillips-head screwdriver. One of them sort of folds up, though the other two come apart, with the top being separate to the legs, and these all being separate to the cross-bracings. One I bought using birthday money from Mum and Dad, and the other two when I realised just how useful the first one was. I’ve checked on the current price of these and was surprised to see that they’ve at least doubled in less than four years, and one has actually tripled. These are certainly worth the relatively small space they’ll take up in a removal van. However, a wooden grow house that we’d used at the house for many years has only another few years in it – so not worth taking. Though I know that it will be ideal for another plot-holder who’s great with carpentry, so they’ll easily be able to extend its life by a good few years more.
I doubt I’ll be taking all my tools. Of the larger ones I’ll find space for my electric strimmer, a spade, a sturdy rake, one of Dad’s old forks, loppers, long-handled secateurs and all my hand tools. Any others will likely go to the communal shed so they can be used by the allotment community. The polytunnel will remain, as will the sheds which were in situ when I acquired the growing spaces. Sturdy tubs, pots and module trays will come with me, as will gravel trays and tray lids – anything else will be offered to others here or within our wider community. Anything that is junk will be disposed of, either being taken to our local recycling centre or popped in our black bin waste. I certainly don’t want any junk I may have to become the junk of another.
Of course, I’ve also done actual work at the plot too. Beetroot and turnip seeds cluster-sown in modules six weeks ago have formed nice seedlings and I hope to plant these out as soon as the weather warms, which I think it’s now doing. Lettuce is also up, though only that of seed that we saved ourselves last year – I think it’s a Cos variety though as a bit too often I forgot to label. Other lettuce seeds sown are being rather tardy in germination, as are two types of parsley, though that’s to be expected as parsley tends to take its time. Early potatoes went in mid-March, just like dad used to do, and cuttings have been taken from jostaberry, just like mum used to do with her roses.
As we’ve hit a new month, I’ve really found myself looking back over the past four weeks, and sometimes further back than that. Initially I thought March had been a quieter month than usual. There are no seedlings of tomatoes and celery at home to look after, as we want rooms clear for the house to look its best. My covering with cardboard and mulching of beds at the plot was done earlier than I normally do, so they needed no work at all. And the sowing of many seeds to bring us tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash, and brassicas has not happened yet as the weather’s been too cold to do so in the poly. Though even given this I now realise I’ve been busy at the plot. Thinking and pottering. Planning and gifting. I’ve been fully immersed in my happy place, and for being able to do that during anxious times I am forever grateful.
Paul Savident and his partner Richard Leighton-Hammond live in Hanwell in west London. As YouTubers they produce two weekly shows, Sunday Chat and A Week at the Plot. www.richardandpaul.com