After much discussion and several site visits our differences were resolved. Nothing major, simply that my wife and I needed to agree just when best to introduce a new layout to the vegetable patch in France.
Our plan was to rearrange the patch so that it would have six raised beds, instead of the old single, large, conventional one. Frames for such beds have to be slightly sunken to ensure stability and to retain the earth. Clearly, during this process any plants growing nearby are damaged or lost. So here was the dilemma. Do we make the change now and risk losing plants and produce not yet ready for harvesting? Or do we wait till November – our next visit – when most of the harvest would have been collected but could mean working in Brittany’s miserable cold and wet autumn weather; a most unpleasant prospect.
The obvious choice would be to wait, but there was also an emotional element in the mix. These weren’t any old frames, I had worked for days making them myself and, apart from some woodwork recently in Canada [Greyhares: A perfect foil, 7 July 2013], building these frames was the first serious carpentry I had done for more than a decade. For years in the past I made furniture and did repairs. Then, as a result of downsizing and the consequent loss of a workshop, all that had to stop. I gave away most of my tools – some to my sons, some to friends and some to the dustmen. At the time I stoically accepted that giving up carpentry was simply part of the shrinking process of ageing. In retrospect it actually touched me greatly.
But now I have space again and once more carpentry has become possible. With the help of a 50-metre electric cable, the purchase of some essential tools and some strategic borrowing, I have managed to convert the garage at the bottom of our Brittany garden into a summer-time workshop. And building the set of frames was my first job. They were large, measuring about 1.0 x 2.5 metres, and each took about three hours to make. Gradually, as old skills returned, I realised just how much I had missed working with, indeed just handling, wood.
After such a labour, leaving the frames stacked away and unused till November simply felt wrong, even unfair. For years, honouring deadlines and completing jobs on time, has been important to me. And in this particular case there seemed a compelling reason to complete the job by straight away putting the frames in place in their new home.
With a struggle each frame was carried in turn up to the path around the bed ready to be installed. With the reality of the frames nearby and after some ‘trying out’, final negotiations began. While Rohan was all for the new arrangement she was very concerned for the well- being of the vegetables. And perhaps, not surprisingly, in the discussions about when to install the frames, she was the advocate for delay so as to ensure the maximum harvest. For my part, I was more the advocate for putting the frames in place as soon as possible.
Soon a deal was struck that made both of us happy. Most of the vegetables would be left untouched. Of those in the way, ten threatened carrots and twelve threatened beetroots would be picked early. One small lettuce would be immediately transplanted (it has survived well) and a larger one left for a week by which time it would be ready for the table. Next, one small rhubarb was dug up, potted, and given away. Finally two established rhubarbs and three Jerusalem artichokes would be left untouched till November. The work involved putting in place four of the frames soon began. The other two must wait – one sitting patiently on the soil next to a rhubarb, and the other next to an artichoke.
But forgetting the vegetable bed, much more special to me is that over forty five years come September we, as a couple, have got better and better at negotiating and compromising our way through areas of disagreement, trivial or otherwise. Not to be overlooked and minor in comparison, there is also something special about being able to do carpentry once again. Interestingly, my love for working with wood is almost forty five years old too. It was a hobby inspired by a teacher at carpentry evening classes soon after we got married.