Ok, I may hate gardening, but the slightest glow of winter sunshine draws me irresistibly outside. The sun is lost to this garden for a few weeks in the winter, because we are sheltered by a high ridge to the South. When the sun at last returns to the garden it can feel as if the spring has sprung and whereas for eleven months of the year I wilt with boredom at the idea of snowdrops, come January I’m off out looking for them.
I think it’s basically an excuse to be outside. I pick some, and then I glance approvingly at them in a vase for a few days. Then I scowl at them for a few days as they go brown, until at last in an uncharacteristically housewifely frame of mind, I throw them out. I follow a similar routine with Sarcococca, but this has the added advantage of being the best pluckable scent in the garden, one which really does do that fabled and elusive thing, ‘scent a room.’
I do not crawl about on my hands and knees in the winter mud gawping at endless variations on the form of the snowdrop flower. Or variations on the length of its stalk or a touch of yellow where the green should be. I have never understood this obsession, but then I don’t dwell much on the subtle beauty of any flower. I like to mass them, use them, sculpt with them; make pictures in the landscape which capture the imagination.
I think there are probably two kinds of lookers, besides the supermodel kind. Those who have patience and appetite for detail and those like me who love the broader effect. I’m the same with books – I want to understand what someone is saying, dive in for the meaning rather than dwell on the beauty of the expression. I rush along, impatient with self-conscious language that merely demands that I notice and admire it. The same with plants
Those like me are overpowered by the rest. The garden world is full of the relentless plant detail which fills the yawning garden pages. At this time of year it is in relatively short supply, so that having had magazines and newspapers full of holly and ideas for tree planting, we will now have the annual trawl through snowdrops and hellebores and winter aconites followed by those cute little daffodils, so much better than their coarse overblown relatives featuring on roundabouts (this was written just before an apparent resurgence in interest in the wonderful history and products of hybridisation in the narcissi – are big daffs back?).
The need for endless soothing and repetitive articles conjuring up a never-never of spotless plants inevitably sidelines people like me. I have come to hate the idea of being ‘passionate about my garden, passionate about plants’
The result is that I keep my vice to myself, so much so that I even deceive myself in December and begin to believe that I could shed the garden and all its work and works and take to a library to indulge the study of history. Come January and the sun I’m off out there again. What for? I hardly know. A compulsion to see what’s happening? to have another look, to kick over a molehill and see if I can discover where the b… rabbit is coming from?
In other words, I am deeply ambivalent about that lot outside. I do feel glad to see the isolated but still reappearing snowdrops of some particular and special kind reappearing. I got them when I interviewed a snowdrop fan for an article on her snowdrop/aconite/tiny winter flowering full/ speciality garden for an article we never sold. I fell for the idea of a few specials, and here I am, welcoming them back again, even though they’re hardly thriving and spreading. Why? I feel a little flattered maybe, that they haven’t totally shunned me. Intrigued to see what’s special about them, because I really have no idea, can’t remember a thing about them, especially their names. I was recently reproached by a garden club I spoke to for my failure to remember the names of the (very ordinary) plants in my own garden. It seems sympathy for the disabled has not spread to garden club land, or the members there are still blissfully unaware of the crippling effects of middle age on the names bit of our brains.
I won’t be doing anything with these snowdrops. They are only just hanging on, can’t upset them by picking any stems for the rotting in the house routine. I will watch them come out, examine them at least once and leave them be. And greet them in this desultory manner every year that they deign to reappear. Mutual tolerance. If they don’t ask anything of me, I won’t ask anything of them. OK.
. … (extract from The Bad Tempered Gardener by Anne Wareham, photographs Charles Hawes)