Drunken Gardeners of History

Man, in his 6million year history has only really produced four great inventions – art, God, fermentation and the gardening blog.  Three to help us forget the universe’s lonely enormity, one to teach us cheap, fun ideas for small plots and to bang on about carrots.

My series Great Gardeners Of History has already fondled the divine and caressed the Muses, and I’m buggered if I’m writing The Great Carrots Of History, so today, ladies and gentlemen – Drunk Gardeners Of History.

Disclaimer. This post differs from the rest of the series in that it does not focus on one individual, but gathers a broad handful of the factual and the fictional. It also forms part of a wider campaign to get gardeners reclassified as ‘Land Sailors’. More information here.   

First some facts. I have created a scientific process for measuring how strong an association particular jobs have with drink. Using a web based pub review site (http://www.beerintheevening.com) I have entered various professions, and measured how many pubs they lend their name to. Gardeners birth a staggering 59 boozers (and this is by no means an exhaustive database). In contrast Bricklayers only have 46 pubs named in their honour and shepherds a puritan 44. And sailors? Sailors only have 43.

Can this be true? Are gardeners really 37% more drunk than the Jolly Jack Tars, famous the world over for their riotous drinking and enthusiastic brawling? Well not necessarily, critics might point out that sailors have a well known song referencing their drunkenness, and that it has an infinite number of verses. They would no doubt say that gardeners have no song at all about their inebriation, thus proving that Sailors are the greater wastrels. To those critics I say Ah! Signore. We have Mozart on our side. (Please watch the first 2 mins of this clip from The Marriage of Figaro for evidence( Feel free to watch the whole clip if you like it))

 As Mozart and Da Ponte knew well, drunken horticulturalists are just as dangerous and compelling as mutinous rum swilling pirate crews, and as fitting a subject for art and literature. Ernest Hemmingway began one of the stories in his first published work:  ‘On the four lire Peduzzi had earned by spading the hotel garden he got quite drunk’. He published this 27 years before The Old Man and The Sea, proving beyond all possible argument that half-cut gardeners held more sway over the imagination of young Ernest than the wide and open ocean. The  grandfather of all drunkards was Dionysus, also the Greek god of agriculture, though his wild and naked bacchanal seems to have been unfairly appropriated by the sailors (the greatest density of prostitutes over recorded was aboard a ship moored in Portsmouth Harbour) leaving the gardener with more of a solitary slumping stupor. Finally Noah planted and tended vineyards just so that he could get sloshed and expose himself, and he turned out to be a great sailor.

The Garden King

Art, myth, song, and archive all play from the same sheet, witness this extract from an employment contract between George Washington and a gardener named  Philip Bater…

 Articles of Agreement made this twelveth day of April Anno Domini one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven, by and between George Washington Esqr. of the Parish of Truro, in the County of Fairfax, State of Virginia, on the one part, and Philip Bater, Gardner,… [who] hereafter, mentioned, doth promise and agree to serve the sd. George Washington, for the term of one year, as a Gardner, and that he will, during said time, conduct himself soberly,… and that he will not, at any time, suffer himself to be disguised with liquor, except on the times hereafter mentioned.

George Washington doth agree to allow him (the sd. Philip)… four Dollars at Christmas, with which he may be drunk 4 days and 4 nights; two Dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two Dollars also at Whitsontide, to be drunk two days; also A Dram in the morning, and a drink of Grog at Dinner or at Noon.

So there you have it Gardeners have grog rations and licensed drunkenness, they are the saliors of the land, and they should be treated as such. That is why I hereby promise that when, one day in the distant future, I am in charge of large public garden, my staff shall be given a tot of rum to start the day and flogged brutally if they shirk on the weeding.

Dead Mans Chest

One Day in the Life of No-van Garden-not-so-rich

Are you tired of living in uncertain times? Are you paralysed by the enormity of everyday decisions? Do you weep at lunchtime, burdened with the knowledge that to pick the wrong sandwich is to pick a life slightly less perfect than you deserve? We all deserve a perfect life!

Well ladies and gentlemen fret no more, Facebook are developing a hive mind. Soon matters of personal choice shall trouble you no longer. If you want to know what the best coffee shop near Hampstead Heath is, just type the question into Facebook and you can receive the most popular of 30million simultaneous answers (the answer is, of course, Starbucks, Time Square, NYC).

In honour of this final desertion of freewill and submission to the overbearing gossips of the global village, today’s post is formatted to be internet friendly. Lots of pictures. Small short words. Small short sentences.

Small short paragraphs.

So here it is, a pictorial One Day in the Life of Ben Dark. The day was Wednesday the 11th of August 2010. I hope this provides an interesting and truthful insight into the life of a small time gardener in South West London – something you have all no-doubt been waiting for.

8.30 am – my chariot is prepped and ready for action. Who needs a van when you have a sturdy purple girls bike. A Raleigh no less. Note the travellers sack of useful gardening tools.

A Sturdy Chariot

8.33 am – A small garden near my house in Putney. The Lawn looked overgrown so I left a card.

A singular garden

 8.40 am – A grand garden, still on route to my first client. Fantastic topiary off set with hydrangeas. I knocked on the door to see if the owners would like to be interviewed for Putney’s Premier Lifestyle Blog, but no one was home.

Declined to comment

8.55 – Arrived at my first garden, and look, a sack of money!

Cold hard cash

Some time around 11 am – stepped in some fox crap

Faecal matters

Wednesday am –  A picture of my favourite border at this clients house – the B&Q border. This is where I put all the strange plants that turn up after the owner’s impulsive trips to DIY shops. It currently sports two tripods of runner beans, a large tree fern, orange and red dahlias, 4 trays worth of wilting summer bedding, several varieties of hosta, a spiralling cultivar of Juncus – name forgotten, three spreading roses, a huge multi-headed sunflower and some lavender. The a small box hedge protects the rest of the garden, and the whole thing is situated on top of the houses old air raid shelter. Fact.

Odd border

Same garden, same morning – A more conventional mixed border, now past its mid-summer best. This border is the epicentre Putney’s bindweed infestation, it’s also the place I stepped in the fox shit. My next challenge is to get some colour into the borders to the right of the steps.

Non-odd border

11.30 am – cup of tea with beans from the odd border and a wincingly under-ripe apple from the tree. A bucolic elevenses

Still life with apple beans and tea

12.30 – One of the best things about cycling is stopping to look at interesting goings on. On the way to my next garden I spotted a squad of about 15 police men in rubber gloves. They were searching the wood next to Barnes Station, no doubt hunting fare dodgers who want to play the system and cheat us all out of hosting a memorable Olympics.

The thin blue line

12.35 am – The saddest hedge I ever did see. The owners probably chose hawthorn to keep Barnes’ vast criminal underclass at bay (see police photo).

The hedge that wasn’t

12.45 – Lunch and product placement by the pond. Being a gardener is more than a job, it’s a lifestyle. thats why I drink Nero Coffee. Or something.

Still life with bike and coffee

1 pm – On to my next garden. This is one of my favourites. It belongs to a very sweet widower whose wife was a very keen and able gardener. After her death the garden returned to nature. I find it really useful to work in, it shows me what plants will do when you turn your back on them. Sage will take over your entire herb garden and half your lawn. Alchemilla mollis surprisingly crowds out sedums, and crocosmia turns into a scruffy carpet that produces about 2 flower spikes for each square meter. Thankfully the garden is slowly starting to appear from under carpets of brambles and elder and I keep finding new surviving plants.

Sruffy Charm

The front garden

The front garden

Coffee break

Still life with bin-bags, secateurs, detritus and coffee

4 pm – A view of Hammersmith Bridge. Taken from the Thames Path on my cycle back to Putney and the next garden. Despite spending the whole day pissing about with spades and roots, this is where I got my thickest coat of mud. High tide and the Thames Floweth over

Mother Thames

4.30 pm – The last of the day’s gardens. An hour spent chasing the mower, an hour spent tarting up the terrace and half an hour working on the sprawling favela like slumtown of compost heaps that I am building from  old doors at the bottom of the garden. Notice the small airborne dog in the bottom right of the photo.

Another nice garden

7 pm – Another cup of tea, nearing the end of a boastfully long day.

Still life with tea and kit-kat

7.45 pm

A reward


The End