Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The vanished flowers



Winter squash seedlings
The day before I was leaving for the Wenlock Poetry Festival I was up at the allotment watering the seedlings and hoping it wasn't going to be a sizzling weekend because I'd taken the risk that they'd survive with a long soaking.
The cucumbers are taking a long time to germinate and might be a bad batch, the squash are looking good though, and I am going to have to risk putting the runner beans in today because like an adolescent, they're getting lanky.
Lettuce and runner bean seedlings

As VG Lee's Facebook posts illustrate, the allotment community is one of the best reasons for spending time with seedlings, other than growing food.
Just before Venice, Dave Swann and Angie were wandering by with a wheelbarrow to collect manure from stables up the road. Fellow local poets Janet Sutherland and Lee Harwood both have allotments and the founder of Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Michael Laskey's a keen grower of veg.
It's hardly surprising that poets of the past wrote about gardens - they ate from them or were healed by them. Long before Emily Dickinson was published she sent poems to friends in bunches of flowers. She, too, was a real gardener and had learned her craft since she was a child.
Killing time yesterday before the RLF reading group I run (we read an essay on peacocks by Flannery O'Connor and poems by Dickinson and Alison Brackenbury), I was browsing a permaculture magazine and fantasising as I often do about a place in the sun with land where I could have goats and grow aubergines.
But every time I think about moving away I'm drawn back to the allotment - the apple tree and fruit bushes I've planted, the compost and manure I've dug in for the soil, the herb garden, the sheds, the great generous clumps of rhubarb and hedge of blackberries, the four plots of raspberries that go into the freezer, or jam, or raspberry vodka, the winter soups, basket of onions…..even the jerusalem artichokes.
Spring pickings - purple sprouting broccoli, chard, sorrel
and rocket
This is the original urban gardening, a wartime solution to food shortages. My allotment, on Tenantry Down, is a short walk up the hill from my house. Further up the hill, on the ridge by the phone masts are more, on the edge of the racecourse are the Whitehawk allotments. There are 37 sites across Brighton and Hove.
I tell Mrisi and Giya - learn how to grow stuff, you might need to know one day. I think of that cow swapped for a bean and I think of Cardiff City Farm, set up by my cousin years ago and now closed but with other city farms, a forerunner of this great need.
The cost of food, availability of food, mental health, diet, exercise, thinking, quality of life - all these things...
The sixties represent a radicalism I still honour - the courage of voter registration campaigns in the deep south of the USA, great movements for change, anti-war demonstrations, the drive to live differently, a dislike and mistrust of consumerism, whole foods and self-sufficiency.
Many of those baby boomers still practice those principles. Many of the second wave of baby boomers, born in the 1950s are too. And some of the children of the baby boomers are brilliant, creative people as a result of their alternative upbringing.
Knowing how to grow food, how to stay alive, is the collective wisdom of the world's women.
I sometimes wonder what would make me give up poetry. It would be the allotment. Only this. But one feeds the other, so there's no risk - as long as I do one, the other will be safe, like Tagore's "memories of the vanished flowers of an hundred years before." (see Poetry Foundation)
Between the elder and bay
looking down at the plum

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174936
Brighton and Hove Allotment Federation: http://www.bhaf.org.uk
Urban farming: http://www.urbanag.org.uk
http://www.motherjones.com/media/2012/07/chicago-food-desert-urban-farming
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30182326
Vertical farming: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/aerofarms-work-starts-to-build-worlds-largest-vertical-urban-farm-in-newark-10211245.html