Joe Collier muses on the contrast between the garden and the kitchen when it comes to contending with the forces of nature.
We arrived in our cottage two weeks ago. As usual the thing we did first was to check over the garden and on this occasion the trees were our main concern. Luckily the willow and giant poplar saplings we planted in November had survived the horrible winter, and the fruit trees in the orchard were already in bud. With the recce over, we set about gardening. Already, the flower beds, the vegetable patch and the path have been weeded (almost). Bushes brought from London have been transplanted, seeds have been sown (the radish shoots are already popping through the earth), tiny frail lettuces potted out, and our chitted potatoes laid in their furrows like soldiers of the Chinese terracotta army. At a more technical level, the frame of the gooseberry cage has been mended and the netting fixed, and wood has been chopped for the evening fire (it is still a bit too cold to go without).
How wonderful it has all been. Hours of quiet in which to think, to day dream, to stretch rarely-used muscles, to kneel on all fours, to dirty ones hands in the soil, to read the clouds, to dodge the rain (and hail) showers, to brave the wind, and if lucky to sit and watch (and hear) robins, tits, and all manner of finches, while having a warm cup of tea. In all this, one feels plunged alongside, or even inside, nature. The earth, and its working, and even the seasons, are things with which we humans have essentially evolved. And even the very tools I use remind me of my place in all this evolution. For the gardener, not much has changed for years. The spade, the axe, the wheelbarrow are almost identical to those our forbears used hundreds of years ago. And at a more immediate level, some of the very implements I use (my rake, hoe, and spade) belonged to my father, and would have been handled by him over fifty years ago.
And in all this somehow, whatever happens, nature will do its own thing, and moreover, we might not know the outcome of that thing for months or years (the site of the row of giant poplars, will be for another generation!). There is no hurry and no certainty, and after those busy days in London where we strive to be in control, the garden gently but firmly reminds one of the sheer force of nature and who is in charge.
Compare all this to the kitchen. I enjoy cooking but life in there has changed beyond recognition as we have divorced ourselves from nature in the broadest sense. In our kitchen we have a dish washer, a programmable oven (which I cannot fathom), extractor fan, a microwave, a pop-up toaster, an electric kettle, an electric whisking machine, a freezer etc. None of these were available in the kitchen of my youth, and while all are wonderfully useful, they add to a feeling of remoteness, as they take away the immediacy of kitchen affairs, generally add annoying noise, and make the kitchen a clinical and distancing place. Even the food we buy is often pre-packed and pre-cooked, and certainly there is little or no hint of seasons in the fruits or vegetables from our supermarkets.
So, just as in the garden we get sucked into nature, our history, and an awareness of our place in the scheme of things, in the kitchen, increasingly, we have become divorced from nature and bound up in technology and a sort of materialism. I know I am a greyhare but to me there is something very compelling in the Confucius adage – if you want to be happy for life, get a garden.