Young people should probably look away now, as this is essentially a post about my garden. In my early twenties I joined the team of the extremely cool magazine The Idler, and was dismayed when, over the next few years, the editor Tom Hodgkinson lost interest in the London cultural scene, moved to Devon and started commissioning articles about allotments, beekeeping and permaculture. It seemed so middle-aged, all that nesting, but I’ve finally succumbed (and would now highly recommend Tom’s book about his smallholding, Brave Old World).
When we moved to Peckham last autumn our garden was overgrown with brambles – we didn’t even know there were beds and a path. But now we have planted autumn-cherry and golden-plum trees, our lawn is mown and we have a little veg-patch with green and borlotti beans, and courgettes (Richard has been frying the flowers in batter, stuffed with anchovies, lemon zest and cheese). I’ve have had various disappointments with Poundland seeds and shriveling rhubarb crowns, and our mothers have had to help out (pregnancy and a small baby both getting in the way of weeding) but some things have still flourished: lavender; mint; elderflower; love-in-a-mist; the buddleia, which crowds with bees and butterflies (I even saw a rare Jersey Tiger Moth folded on a bloom this week, like a Japanese mask). An old bush surprised us with yellow roses streaked with crimson, like raspberry ripple ice-cream, and we’ve managed to resurrect a wilting Delphinium from Aldi. A lot of the flowers have poetic resonances too: I can’t look at the sunflowers against the wall without thinking of Ginsberg’s ‘Sunflower Sutra’, or my marigolds without Vicki Feaver’s lines in my head – their ‘hot orange fringes / the smell of arousal’ – or my single lipstick-pink hollyhock without recalling August Kleinzahler’s description of them in ‘Hollyhocks in Fog’ as: ‘solitary as widows or disgraced metaphysicians’. (Sarah Maguire’s anthology Flora Poetica is a perfect read with the grass between your toes.)
I have been sitting in it a lot this month. The most amazing thing about having a garden is you have your own bit of sky to look at: the plough glinting through the light-pollution at night; the expanse of nursery-blue in the day. We’ve had barbecues nearly every weekend, and during the week I’ve been feeding Gruff under the apple tree’s dapple; reading as the sun ticks across the sky through what Marvell’s poem ‘The Garden’ calls its ‘fragrant zodiac’; prodding caterpillars and watching swifts dive. And yesterday, ordering bulbs and seeds on my Ipad, suckered in by the wonderful names: Eye of the Tiger Irises; Queen of the Night Tulips. I’ve almost written several poems, but none of my thoughts seem quite interesting enough – my main state is a kind of stupid, animal happiness – and a little part of me still thinks I’m too young to be writing poems about gardens, so I’ve made a coffee and am watching a storm gather over the fence while I write this instead.