Human Flower Project
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The garden one once almost had will grow from seed and history—or it won’t. Let there be difficulty!
“They need sun…they need elbow room…”
Photo: By John Levett
By John Levett
I’ll start with the exciting bit.
S. Victoria x Bruce; Blue D (dark eye) x Galileo; Blackberry Ice x Deep Pink sdg.
I’ll now write a few more paragraphs and allow time for recovery.It was my mother who led me into gardening when I was a child. I took a break from it for about twenty-five years and then returned. Gardening was never mooch-and-potter for me; it was challenge. Find the most difficult to grow; find that which has never been raised in the northern hemisphere; embrace the impossible; raise the unimaginable; defy genetics; restructure creation. In a plot the size of a decent living room.
Cacti & alpines featured heavily. It wasn’t simply the demands of raising things requiring more than dig-and-drop but rather the prospect of the results—horticultural Fabergé eggs. Never mind that the sun never travelled in the right direction, nor that ventilation was practically absent beyond the leaks in the ill-fitting greenhouse door, nor that the heating from the paraffin stove necessary for their geranium housemates during the winter was close to guaranteed to asphyxiate the living planet—the bloom was the prize.
I bought in plants (cacti from market stalls and alpines from Ingwersen’s) but raising from seed was the test. I can’t remember one that survived longer than life in the seed pan. Never mind. (“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”) Try another plant. Try sweet peas. Sweet peas worked. I bought seed every Autumn from Bolton’s near Haverhill in Essex, usually about ten varieties. I had a 1930s booklet on the raising of sweet peas (all the illustrations in black and white) and followed it to the letter—the seed soaking, the earthenware pots, the measured depth, the sinking of the pot, the ash covering.
Bingo! Enough plants to run a stall. I’d just acquired an allotment so I ditched the veg apart from onions & shallots (alleged to spirit away all manner of nasties) and raised the stakes. I took handfuls back home each evening throughout each summer. I’d found a seed I could handle.
I then discovered the Chiltern Seeds catalogue: a goldmine for the sower and a money-pit too. Go through your initial tick-off list of all you’re going to raise next year, tot up the total and seek a second mortgage on the loan. It never stopped me. Campanulas followed the sweet peas, then hardy geraniums, then species pelargoniums, then pansies and violas. Then the Annual Hitchin Horticultural Show.
I went along to the Summer show the year that I moved to Hitchin, 1972. The following year I started exhibiting my pansies, scooped third prize, headed for the top. Delphiniums arrived in the back garden. It might have been that I saw them at the show but more likely my enthusiasm came from Ronald Parrett’s Penguin handbook. I began collecting those handbooks around that time—The Cool Greenhouse, Rock Gardens, Chrysanthemums (I had a fleeting flirtation with these; grief knows why), Dahlias (ditto) and Roses—Delphiniums is the only one I went through cover-to-cover (again, everything in stunning grayscale).