Passed a family-centred day today. Skate park, planting things in the garden. Then got taken with a sudden urge to burn all the dead wood that’s accumulated over winter.

The kids were delighted to help, finding various pieces they could chuck in the brazier.

This led to the toasting of marshmallows, which is always a sign of imminent improvement.

Browsing about, I happened on the work of illustrator Sow Ay, which I dug.

So, aye… The word ‘mindful’ gets thrown about quite a lot at the moment, conceptions of ‘presence process’, thinking ‘right now’. Some aspects of That Sort of Thing work well for me, anyway.

This cartoon by Sow Ay is a nice reminder that one may be feeling good, all over it, even, but not to take that for granted.

Not drinking alcohol reminds me that my brain works in certain ways, quite a lot of which can be positive, but there’s a lot of excitable over-thinking, unsolicited extrapolation and fret as well. I’m getting to appreciate that the brain waves are easier to stay afloat on without a body full of booze.

Today? I was shovelling a tonne of compost on to the veg patch, which I suppose works as a metaphor but was, also, an actual tonne of actual compost on to an actual veg patch… alongside other first-day-of-holiday, warm-sunny-weather-in-late-winter hyphenated pottering. Lots of time with the kids. Oh yeah, Leeds won as well. It was A Good Day.

Not taking it for granted, no sir, not saying I’m full of understanding… but yeah, recognising when it feels good.

Longer-term followers of The Mortal Bath may recall mention of horticultural activity.

Sunday in the garden, a nice ritual in a number of aspects. Eventually the physical event of tending the plants took on a greater importance than any need to communicate it to the wider world.

Part of that is the unbearable crunchiness of it, the perception of so-called virtue so-called signalling, all that. At core was a question for which I was unable to generate a satisfactory response. (The question of course being “Who gives a fuck?”)

I’d often devote mental space to extrapolation while in between the rows. Composing, contemplating the long-term potential of collating the posts into a modestly successful series of books, the delivery service, a large scale permaculture campaign, the inevitable backlash and ensuing midlife crisis in which I purchased a fleet of leather jackets and a battered motorcycle to make a road movie round the Horn of Africa with Ewan McGregor.

I would giggle softly to myself as I returned to the present to hoick a clump of cat shit into the hedge with the hoe.

“Yeah, but, acorns, man!”

“No, definitely a cat.”

Anyway, Green Parent magazine/ rise and fall fantasias aside, there’s such a lot to be said for digging, edging, preparing, planting, weeding, growing, picking and eating. There is a lot to be said about it as well, but, like those writers spending endless hours polishing their process posts, it’s likely as useful left unuttered.

Last year we grew radishes, potatoes, beetroot, carrots, onions, leeks, beans, broccoli, rocket and turnips. This is in a space about 6x7m.

We also had tomatoes and cucumbers in grow bags along the wall under the kitchen window, mint in a metal tub (mint loves to take over) and borage in poly pots. A hop plant did well for itself until it got overrun with aphids… the ladybirds we introduced quickly got too fat to keep up with the little green varmints. We had a disappointing elderberry crop for the same reason.

Mostly, though, we had tasty, tasty veg.

The great thing about gardening is that it’s an annual lesson in planning being only part of the schedule. The science of it is fairly predictable, but it’s all subject to uncontrollable variables.

This was last month… I mean, I’m only writing this because it’s chucking it down with rain outside, again.

This weekend, though, fair being foul or no, we’re potting up and planting what we can. The excitement of the new season is upon us. The bird is on the wing. Pan’s pipes do warble native woodnotes wild. There’s a bustle in the hedgerow.

Although, to be honest, that is more likely to be next door’s cat.

(We’re rebranding from ‘allotment’ to ‘garden’… grounds accuracy.)

This week, Sunday’s horticultural activities mostly took place on Saturday. Lovely digging weather, and a bit of a hangover, decided the activity. Also, I’ve concluded that the proposed site of the veg patch (see last week’s edition) might pose less of a challenge if approached in sections. Plus, I only had about an hour to kill.

The patch is in a considerably under-cherished state:


An idea at one point was to hire a rotorvator, to save totally crippling myself. However, as noted previously, this garden is beset with brambles, all hacked back to ground level now, but lying in wait just below the surface. The rotorvator would at best split the roots up, and this just encourages the wee veggie hydras.

Getting stuck in with spade and fork, one hour 15 mins later I’d managed this corner:


…and filled the wheelbarrow:


… with John Wyndham-esque knots of matter like this:


The soil left needs a really good forking, and a whole lot of sieving, with masses of straggly threads and tendrils everywhere. However the turning revealed a superabundance of worms as well, which is really good news as regards the healthiness of the loam. It was also encouraging to see how the rest of the patch might not be so much of a mare as it threatens. And that’s the second cagey ‘might’ I’ve used concerning this section of the plot.

So, that was yesterday. Today I had a minor fire to dent the pile of dead privet and creeper up the other end of the garden:


Note the shiny new fence. The pallets are earmarked to make a compost bin, so they didn’t get thrown in the brazier:


No notebooks on this occasion either…

I also thought of something to do with the chunks of cement the neighbour unearthed while putting in the shiny new fence, and which I’d shifted over to the currently submerged mini-rockery:


It occurred that it would be nice to use them to form a rough grid round the base of the blackberry plant in the corner, in which we could enclose a small herb garden… but occurrence was as far as it got this week.

Diabolical weather all weekend – the storm that set in today is still lashing bits of tree matter about the place – so no digging for me, in a couple of senses.

Appositely, I have been making do with some reading up on how to tend the vegetable plot:


Dowding is an advocate of the ‘no dig’ method of gardening, which is an interesting approach. It seems quite reliant on having access to barrow loads of compost/topsoil, which currently I don’t, and still requires the removal by fork and fire of, for example, brambles where they present themselves, as they do in abundance in our plot. The previous tenant had let the garden just do its thing, which it turned out was to grow waist high with brambles.

Dowding’s mulching tips are pretty comprehensive, though. I will almost definitely be using the cardboard-boxes-and-woodchip method for lining paths, once the root crowns of the remaining brambles are bagged up. Also, he has sheds of info on other gardening aspects. I am regarding our massive privet hedge border askance, for one example, having read a section on root footprint. The privet may well have to lose a foot or two come summer.

Summer! It feels a long way off, listening to the wind howling about outside. Still, happily, there’s plenty of plot plotting to hatch inside in the interim.

Now, of course, it’s time to dig this:

This morning we awoke to a rare Sunday/decent weather congruence. ’tis a miracle! I cried, skipping gleefully out into the garden at the first opportunity.

I spent most of the morning doing some amateur hour surveying of the garden. Approximate distances between trees, precise rockery calculus, potential vegetable plot dimensions. Extra space gained along one edge where next-door-out-the-back is putting in a fence, and has removed a massive section of privet.

After this Wordsworthian bit of puddle measuring, I was casting about for something more horny-handed son of the soilish to occupy me. My gaze fell upon this fallen arch:


Topically, the deceased honeysuckle and ivy combination reminded me of Donald Trump’s hair. It had to go.


I take great delight in hacking ivy back to nothing – the slightest root left and it insinuates itself with assurance round anything static – so set about the task with some relish. And a pair of secateurs and a bow saw.

An hour and a half later, victory was secured:



The arch had sustained quite a bit of damage, with the weight of the stems and the insidious snaking of the hedera adhering to the joists.


As is evident from the pics, the wood is quite warped. I was unsure how much the creaking as I was shifting the struts about was an indicator of imminent collapse, but a bit of drilling here and there (which by the looks of the ways the screws are sitting may need redoing), and it looked as good as nearly new intentionally rustic.


So, good to go with some honeysuckle, clematis or even golden hop? We shall see. Stepping back to enjoy this Valentine’s Day labour of love, it became evident that this garden relationship now requires significant work in another direction:



I was just contemplating a quick attack with the shovel when the sky intervened, becoming forbidding and then loosing a four seasons in one day hail-and-snow combi. No:


…and no.

Still, a good stint, so will sleep well tonight, tired out if not quite worn.

Yesterday saw some headway made in the garden. In a mood shift, where a previous me has been keen to rush into stuff and then get frustrated when unrealistic plans come to nothing, this project is growing nicely into a combination of exterior improvement and meditative activity.

Gardening. We rent, but we’ve been lucky enough to get a big bit of outside space. However, the previous tenant (nine years, I understand) was not interested in the opportunities afforded. Mass take-over by brambles, overgrown hedges, and leaves, leaves, leaves everywhere.


That’s all from the back hedge and this one spot next to the eucalyptus. Quite a lot of work remaining…

While we’re probably not going to be installed as long as nine years, we’re planning on a good stint here, and I do dig a bit of gardening… which is a good job, as there is a shed load of diggery to do.

As well as the eucalyptus, there’s an apple tree, an elder and another fruit tree we haven’t managed to identify yet… and there’s this big patch of ground that used to be used to grow veg.


Oh yes, that’s a bay at the back left. Anyway, I know this was used for veg because before we moved in, I happened upon the parents of the owner doing some clearing of leaves (there is also a poplar that’s easily 80 feet… LEAVES! LEAVES! LEAVES!). They filled me in on a bit of the horticultural background of the house, and seemed pleased I was taking an interest. They had managed to stop the letting agent’s garden people from using weedkiller on this bit, in the hope it might get used again. They seemed quite pleased about that too.

As a result of the nonchemical nonintervention, and as you can see from that pic, the patch is currently a bit overgrown. The Giza pyramids arrangement of piles of muck are all soil and twigs cleared from the paving round and about the place. This took up most of yesterday’s short session at the spade.


The dark bits were all three-five inches submerged. It’s not quite the Lost Gardens of Heligan, but there’s been something highly exciting about discovering what lies beneath.

What lies beneath the veggie-patch-to-be-again is clusters and clusters of bramble roots like this, which took up the rest of yesterday’s efforts.



Felt like I’d Done My Bit by the time this was full, and I only managed one corner of the area as well!

Given the unseasonably diabolical weather since October, and the unlikelihood of getting much time in wellies before summer, at the moment I’m revising the schedule to target late planting produce.

No rush, like.