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Flowers That Bloom in the Spring, Ha, Ha

Fascinating things, gardens, they make you do the most irrational things. For instance. You get the idea you would like to grow tomatoes. Not the simple way, of course, which is by buying plants and putting them in, but the hard way. About 18 months ago I was served with a beautiful tomato in my salad. I pushed the seeds on to one side - a wet, soggy mass. Later I washed them, laid them on paper handkerchiefs to dry, and kept them throughout the winter. About March last year I planted them in a box, tenderly transferred the seedlings to pots, transferred them later to the garden. Throughout the summer I nursed them like babies, feeding them with expensive fertiliser, keeping the ground moist until the great day when the first one turned red. Soon I could pick them in lots of five or six. Every time we had salad I would say: "Lovely tomatoes, aren't they?" and receive a non-committal "Mmm" in reply. After a week or so of this came the day which made me decide not to grow tomatoes. "Lovely tomatoes, aren't they?" I said as usual. "Yes, aren't they?" came the reply. "I got them in the Co-op, only 6d a lb." That's what I mean about being traditional. By the time your salads are ready there's a glut in the shops.

So this year I've turned to flowers. But my first job was to re-seed that circle of lawn which was burnt up last November 5. "Come on," I said at the time. "We'll light the bonfire here. The lawn's bumpy anyway and it's all got to be re-sown." It was a wonderful bonfire. The three kids had a marvellous time. The day of reckoning came two weeks ago on a Saturday. "It's getting a bit late to do the whole lawn," I said to the wife. "I'll just do the patches." She gave me one of those looks that wives give. "I love a nice-looking garden," she said, "but isn't it time you started doing up the kitchen? You said you would when spring comes, and it will soon be summer - and then you've got to start on the outside." And to make sure I didn't forget anything, "And you said you would do the living room, and the children's room is a shambles ... and what about the front door you said you were going to modernize last summer ... and when are you going to tack down the carpet ... and I don't want to grumble, but the outside lavatory is a disgrace ..."

"Don't worry, it will all get done," I said, disappearing into the garden. For the rest of the day I dug round the patches and sifted soil and jumped on bits of wood to get the ground flat - we don't have a roller - and put in the seed, covered it with more sifted soil, and jumped on bits of wood again, making it, so I thought, impervious to the birds. I happened to glance out of the window half an hour later. All the birds from miles around were having the time of their lives. We'd been saving milk-bottle tops for just such an emergency. I threaded them on black cotton and strung them over the patches. I went to work next day. Monday morning the bottle tops were scattered all over the garden. I rampaged downstairs and shouted at the children: "Who broke my cotton?" "I did," said the eldest. "I couldn't see it." "You're not supposed to see it," I shouted. Still the milk-bottle tops make a nice show, their gold, blue and silver glinting in the sun. They're practically a substitute for the daffodils that didn't come up ... but that's another story.

I really love gardening - not like the chap next door, who hates it, doesn't know the first thing about it, never read a book on it - and has a wonderful display from March to November.

It gets you. I can spend hours crouched down looking at a spot of ground where a week before I put some seed, trying to make out the first shoots appearing. I learned you mustn't get impatient with nature. Take my rhubarb, for instance. In the autumn I split my two measly clumps into four, but with a nagging suspicion that things weren't quite right.

As spring came in, the chap next door had a lush growth of rhubarb about 10 in high. No sign of mine. I prodded around with a stick and discovered - nothing. Imagine my amazement when a few days later one shoot appeared and then another. But where were the other two? Lost, I decided, and started digging away merrily. I knocked off the growing shoot of the third of the pieces, and then decided to leave well alone. Not for the first time the exclamation was squeezed from me: "Isn't nature marvellous!" There's still a lot to be done. As the woman next door said to me the other morning: "It's a full-time job, isn't it?"

But now it's Easter. I'm having a four-day clear break to tackle the garden, the kitchen, the living-room, the children's bedroom, the carpet ... and the outside lavatory.

All that worries me is the chap next door. When we start talking about bedding plants, seeds and tubers, and I tell him how to take cuttings scientifically - just the way I read it in a book - time flies, and before you know where you are it's time for another cup of tea.

(Daily Worker)

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