‘LAY DOWN ALL HOPE, YOU THAT GO IN BY ME’ is surely one of the most hysterically hyperbolic pieces of graffiti in the mythical world. Dante passed the Gates of Hell and came out fine, I’m sure the writing’s just there to stop journalists and family historians pissing about with the dead. I’m sure because I spent last Tuesday between the hours of 8am and 5pm in Hell – and now I’m sitting here typing this and drinking a cup of tea.
As a neurotically unrepentant sinner, I’ve spent many constructive hours pinpointing the exact spot in Dante’s vision of Hell where my eternal punishment is destined to take place. It’s actually not as simple a hobby as some might think. It seems that in Fourteenth Century Milan everyone had their sin and stuck to it; you decided ‘I’m a flatterer!’ and you bloody well knuckled down to flattering – it was a sin for life. In this age of universal health care, where bankers become plumbers and plumbers become simoniacs we all want to have our cake and eat it (Hoarders and Spendthrifts both). I know people who are capable of being gluttonous, wrathful, schismatic and lustful all in the time it takes them to eat breakfast.
I’d sort of decided that as a garden blogger whose own garden currently resembles the City of Dis itself, I’d belong in the Eighth Circle, Bowge vi, where the hypocrites trudge in gilded cloaks of lead. However whichever force orders my life experiences (God knows it aint me) decided that I should test drive the far less glamorous Third Circle – where the gluttonous wallow.
Yes, last Tuesday it rained all day. I spent the day engrossed in two tasks, switching from one to the other as each became intolerable. The first was rescuing a monstrous, unloved and mismanaged compost heap, thus I know how it is to garden while ‘huge hailstones, sleet and snow, and turbid drench/ of water sluice down through the darkened air,/ and the soaked earth gives of a putrid stench.’ My second sisyphean challenge was bramble clearance, so now I know exactly what gardeners do when raked by Cerberus’ talons: ‘They howl in the rain like hounds; they try to shield/ One flank with the other; with many a twist and squirm, the impious wretches writhe in the filthy field’. I have to say I am genuinely stunned at how accurately Dante describes a day in my gardening life 700 years before it happened. Spooky.
This miserable experience soaked my spirit so thoroughly it made me question for the first time Why I Garden. Certainly not for the money, there are easier ways to earn a far bigger crust than by gardening. What’s that I hear? Did someone say ‘Oh, but it must be lovely having a job where you’re outside all day’… I can bet if I was a professional beggar no-one would say that. Philosophically it can be argued that gardening is good for the soul, in fact Voltaire suggested that small time garden maintenance was the way to spend a perfect life (take that careers advisors!) as it keeps the individual ‘free of three great evils: boredom, vice and necessity’ hence the eponymous Candide’s eventual epiphany ‘we must tend to our garden’. Well it seems apparent that Voltaire never spent his days raking leaves so as to afford a trip to the pub. Ecologically, gardening is regarded as good, but I occasionally use pesticides and herbicides, and I’m sure the gardens I use them in would have a greater biodiversity if they were left completely fallow. So, why indeed?
And now it’s Monday night, almost a exactly a week since my hellish Tuesday, and the rain has started again. Heavy, persistent, thuggish sounding rain. I could give up, I could stay in bed tomorrow – maybe I could apply for a job in a nice warm bakery, I could make hot-crossed-buns all day, and go home smelling of cinnamon, not half decomposed vegetable matter. But I won’t (*Stirring music*) I shall not be beaten, I shall rise, strong of hand and firm of calf, I’ll stride to the window, throw it open, I’ll never be a baker! Never! And I’ll scream into the rain ‘Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens, brown paper packages, tied up with strings These are a few of my favourite things.’
You see, in the words of the great Julie Andrews: ‘whenever I’m feeling unhappy, I just try to think of nice things’. And there are certain things that make this job the best in the world. So to finish this post let us have a riot of glorious and flagrantly plagiarised (I don’t own a camera) pictures of flowers that have been cheering me up in the last few weeks.
Aquilegia formosa, this is self seeded all through a little plant filled garden I weed on Saturday mornings. picture stolen from www.portlandnursery.com
Dicentra spectabilis stolen from http://www.thelensflare.com/large/bleeding-heart-plant_56791.jpg Growing in the same garden. I often take this flower to show non-gardening friends that the natural world has been making hello kitty style fluff for far longer than the Japanese.
Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’ .Wisteria for the rave generation. Now sadly faded in the gardens of Putney. Picture stolen from www.gardenerstips.co.uk
Azaleas flowering down the road from me in the Isabella plantation of Richmond Park. Picture stolen from http://www.talksongardens.co.uk
So there we go, I bitched and moaned the whole way through the post, but seeing a few flowers and the end sends everyone away happy and makes it all seem worthwhile. Bring on the rain and hellfire.