Spring is finally here. The days are lengthening, spring bulbs are in full swing and the fields are beginning to be full of little bundles of curly wool kicking up their heels of a sunny afternoon. The weather at the beginning of March is a still a tussle between warmer air on land meeting colder air coming off the sea. But as March slips into April the warmer air begins to win and the winds die down. With a renewed interest in what is going on outdoors and higher energy levels abounding, it makes sense that in medieval times the 25th March was regarded as the first day of the new year.
St. Monty of the Gardeners, Blessed Be His Holy Name, would be disgusted at my lack of fortitude at this time of year, for I am still easily driven inside when a smattering of rain turns to sleet. Once I can comfortably be outside in a fleece - or even better, t-shirt sleeves - then I am in my element. Until then, I only conduct short forays into the garden for an hour or so at a time.
These bursts of energy, stalled by procrastination when high winds and rainclouds threaten, were slowed to a complete stop this year as halfway through February I lost my footing on the stairs. I could fill a book just detailing the number of times I have fallen. There were would be a chapter devoted to each type: slipping, tripping, skidding, stepping into thin air, and then all the times when I still don’t know exactly what happened.
I have fallen off a ladder, more than once. I have fallen off a pier. I have fallen off a rope swing mid-air and given myself concussion when my head hit a nearby fence. I fallen flat on my face while trying to roller blade on holiday because I did not know how to brake and so could not stop myself from rolling backwards down a hill until the blades hit a kerb and gravity did the rest. In front of a bus full of tourists. In a bikini. I have fallen over a “Beware of the Wet Floor” hazard sign. I have fallen down the stairs of every property in which I have ever lived. So really, it was only a matter of time.
On this occasion my feet left me about half way down. I thumped down onto the steps (hitting my coccyx) and proceeded to slide, at speed, the rest of the way to the bottom. Whereupon I bumped onto the ground (hitting my coccyx again) and skidded across the hall floor to a stop, whacking my right foot off a doorframe.
I lay very still on the floor for some time, waiting to see if I had died. I was pleased to discover that I had not. But soon realised that my foot felt a bit like Tom’s after Jerry hit it with a mallet. It had developed it’s own distinct heartbeat and was throbbing. I knew I had broken my toes, because as it happens, I broke those exact same toes falling out of the bath 10 years before. You couldn’t make it up. Not surprisingly, the next day, and for some more days after that, I felt like I had been at the centre of a particularly vicious ice hockey scrum without the body armour.
This incident unfortunately corresponded with a particularly lovely period of weather and the mildest February day since records began. So with irony worthy of Alanis Morrisette I realised that at the exact moment that I could finally get outside and relieve a winter’s worth of cabin fever, I could only hobble a few steps at a time before needing to lie down on my face to have a rest.
But all was not lost because at least there were the seed catalogues. Every year it is the same. “If I just buy another 55 packets of seeds,” I think to myself, “my plot will be Chelsea-worthy by mid-June.” A kind of plant-madness descends and I find myself thinking about what I’m going to plant at the bottom of that pesky north-facing wall, at 2 in the morning.
I had been lucky enough to inherit a rickety greenhouse when we bought our previous house. To be perfectly honest, I think I bought the greenhouse and was just happy the house was included in the sale. I loved it with a passion. It was, by far, the hardest thing to leave when we moved and I had been eagerly counting the days until I could install one at the new Thompson Towers.
Finally, the great day came. I had spent many an hour perusing the catalogues. I was determined to rectify any perceived short-comings of the rather old school model I had left behind. I wrote a shopping list that included all the bells and whistles a humble greenhouse could possibly boast. It had safety glass, staging, solar-powered-openers and fancy fleur-de-lys pointy bits along the ridge. It was easily, and by quite some way, the most exciting purchase I had ever made in my life.
I ordered it at the end of summer, thinking it would arrive and be erected by mid-October which would give me plenty of time to use it to overwinter some tender plants and be ready for planting seeds in early spring. The supplier assured me that it was going to be a very quick and straightforward process. And having lived through, and survived, 8 months of renovation of the actual house, I assumed that this final stage, involving a structure so small that it could easily fit inside the bathroom, would be a relative walk in the park.
Sadly, it was not to be. Firstly for a reason no-one could explain, the greenhouse was not shipped until early November. When it finally arrived, the fitter came to inspect the base we had prepared. He walked round it three times, tutting and finally mournfully shaking his head, he pronounced it, alas, too small. The landscaper dutifully returned to enlarge it. A few weeks later, the fitter returned for a second time and this time expressed his concerns that the base, whilst now the perfect size, was not quite level. He assured me, however, that he could account for this in the construction phase and so I left him to it. The greenhouse took two whole days to build. I exhausted myself trotting in and out of the house to watch progress, itching to see it complete.
In the final stages of the build, on a routine sortie, I saw a pile of piping and brackets lying to one side. Naturally I enquired after them and was told that they were the fittings for the water butt attachment which I had ordered with the greenhouse.
“Why aren’t they, you know, attached?” I queried.
“Oh the water butt won’t work now,” came the airy response.
“What? But what’s the point in having the water butt if it won’t work?”
“The greenhouse is running downhill now, so the water won’t be able to run into the butt.”
“But why didn’t you mention this before you started building?”
“Well I did tell you it wasn’t level. If you want it to be actually level, I’ll have to come back on another day and put a wooden base underneath. Which will cost extra. Plus I don’t have time to do it today.”
With which pronouncement he packed his tools and left. Later that night, during torrential rain, I went out to the garden to see how The Glasshouse of Wonder was performing. I couldn’t get in due to the fact that all the water off the roof was pouring in a sheet straight down over the door in the manner of Alexandra Falls. The water butt was standing inert and almost entirely bone dry at the other end of the structure.
Sighing deeply I realised that a third visit from the fitter was clearly unavoidable. Finally, on the 4th of January, a mere 4 months since my initial order, he duly returned and raised the entire building up on a tiered wooden base which rendered it actually level. During the next fall of heavy rain I crept out to the garden, hardly daring to look. I was still harbouring a vain hope that some water might actually be trickling into the water butt. But no. It was not. I heard the dripping before I even saw it. It appeared that the gutters were leaking.
At this point I declared defeat. I thought with fondness back to the straightforward, slightly wobbly, but serviceable, ancient aluminium greenhouse I had left behind. It’s rainwater collection system consisted of a pipe, taped into the hole at one end of the gutter and poking down into a barrel. The sad truth remained, however, though crude as it had been, it had worked.
I am pleased to say that since those dark days at the beginning of the year, the leaking gutters have now been fixed. And after a somewhat rocky start I have had to concede that the new greenhouse is dazzlingly handsome in every way. It certainly adds a certain horticultural je ne sais quoi to the whole garden. I can’t help but note with smugness that when Brexit inevitably halts our nation’s essential supply of kumquats and stuffed olives, I will have no difficulty in supplying these for the neighbourhood from within it’s glittering walls. For a small price of course.
So now if only the rain, sleet and gale force winds would just die down a teensy bit, and assuming that no more limbs are broken in the interim, I have every reason to believe that if St Monty did happen to swing by, even he might be impressed with Thompson Towers Botanical Gardens’ newly opened Victorian-style Orangery. Complete with solar-powered openers.
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