Friday, 1 June 2007
Gardens and gardening
Just like the British the Czechs are never so happy as when they are gardening. The desire to grow things and to have some small part of this earth that they can shape and tend is very deep in them.
One way the communists kept the Czechs under control was to allow them all their allotments and their little huts. It doesn't matter that these might be along the side of a railway line on the wrong side of town, each rectangle of land is carefully tended with apple trees and lines of vegetables and flowers. The little shed may be made of a rickety affair made from odd scraps of wood but it exudes a certain pride. This is where the family comes at weekends to help, to sit around fires and cook sausages and drink beer or homemade plum brandy (made from the plums of the tree they are sitting under). And from your passing train you see briefly into their little kingdom and then they are gone again, but as you pass through each village, town and city this scene is revisited time and time again
It is not an accident that possibly the best book on gardening was written by a Czech - The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek (illustrated by his brother Josef see above). No writer I know so brilliantly describes the joys and trials of gardening or with such poetry. For example he writes of buds "You must stand still; and then you will see open lips and furtive glances, tender fingers, and raised arms, the fragility of a baby, and the rebellious outburst of the will to live, and then you will hear the infinite march of the buds faintly roaring." And all the time he talks of the soil "I find that a real gardener is not a man who cultivates flowers; he is a man who cultivates the soil. . . . He lives buried in the ground."
But the Czechs are not blessed with England's glorious temperate weather and as a result cannot have the infinite variety of plant options that the English have, garden centres here seem meagre affairs after the cornucopia of the English ones. I find it incredibly hard to find plants that will survive here - that will survive both the harsh winter and the hotter dryer summers. Lavender? No. Bluebells? No. I must learn to garden like the Czechs and to know and love the sharp differential of seasons, as Capek did, and the limitations they bring.