Mendacity most Foul

So spring is here

‘When blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing:
    Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!’

And I find myself fatter and more jocund this morning than on any March 1st of recent history, for I have found the Secret of Winter Gardening.

In previous years I followed the advice on winter gardening that squats unchanging on the RHS website:

1)    Clean Pots

2)    Read seed catalogues

3)    Feed the birds

But always found that even in this most improvident of cities people are unwilling to spend £15 per hour on sparrow feeding, and no matter how many times I showed clients the RHS webpage I was always dismissed by mid December.

So I’m going to write the post that I wish had existed when I first started out and give the reader a sure-fire method for surviving winter as a maintenance gardener.

RHS aside, there are two traditional schools of thought on the matter. The first I like to call stockpiling and is advocated by well-equipped men on landscaping forums. The idea is to spend nine months putting aside jobs that can be done numb-fingered in the gelid depths of winter. The stockpilers  point out that fencing repairs, resurfacing paths, and odd bits of painting and decorating can all be done when the sap is down, thus providing the gardener with a year round revenue stream. They are right, but if you follow their advice you will have to spend the winter repairing fences and painting ceilings. Unacceptable.

The second school, the hibernators, advise putting aside money throughout the year to cover a possible period of winter dormancy. This approach tends to be championed by parents, accountants and grown-up friends. Using this method essentially boils down to saying ‘yes dear friend, I would love to join you at the beer garden, for truly this hazy summer evening was gifted to us for conversation and carousal, but alas I must save money for January’s baked potatoes’. Dismiss this approach.

 No I have discovered a third way of survival, perfect for the profligate and the feckless, truly way of the dissolute – become a sham frozen-out gardener.

Henry Mayhew in his magisterial survey of the Victorian proletariat London Labour and the London Poor was my inspiration. He identified certain subspecies of professional beggars known as Unemployed Agriculturalists and Sham Frozen Out Gardeners who:

 … are seen during a frost in gangs of from six to twenty.  Two gangs generally “work” together, that is, while one gang begs at one end of the street, a second gang begs at the other.  Their mode of procedure, their “programme”, is very simple.  Upon the spades which they are carrying, is chalked “frozen-out!” or “starving!”  They enhance the effect of this slum or fakement by shouting out sturdily: “Frozen out!”  “We are all frozen-out!

The gardeners differ from the agriculturalists, or “navvies”, in their costume.  They affect aprons and old straw hats, their manner is less demonstrative, and their tone is less rusty, and unmelodious.  The “navvies” roar; the gardeners squeak.  The navvies’ petition is made loud and lustily, as by men used to work in clay and rock; the gardeners’ voice is meek and mild, as of a gentle nature trained to tend on fruit and flowers.  The young, bulky, sinewy beggar plays the navvy; the shrivelled, gravelly, elderly cadger performs the gardener.

Frozen out Gardeners


Nowadays spades are hard to chalk, being made of stainless steel, but do not lose heart, a beggar can still let people know they are pretending to be a gardener by tying vegetables to a stick and parading them up and down the street while looking as pathetic as possible (Garden designers take note: this is still a far more effective way of advertising than twitter).

Playing the destitute horticulturalist in return for cash has proved a highly effective way of keeping my rent paid and my belly full this winter. Thanks mum! But in business you have to grow to survive, so this autumn I shall be holding open auditions for shrivelled, gravelly, elderly cadgers – I have a few confirmed readers of this blog in mind who would be just perfect.

(P.S I do actually have a full time job and have paid my rent all by myself this winter)

(P.P.S Mum if your reading this, I’m so cold and hungry…)    

We're Frozen Out!