So we razed the old vegetable patch, and rebuilt it. This is a simple thing to say. It fits within the template of VS Naipaul’s advice to writers that sentences be no more than 12 words (although this sentence doesn’t.)
But the reality is that it took all of us a full Sunday. The long wet grass had to be mown down so that we could see the old rotting sides, that had once been slim planks of pine hastily varnished on the day we made the first one, wedged into place with wooden stakes. Then old seeded herbs and salad leaves had to be hauled out, and an unexpected parsley plant repotted. The girls were briefly interested, and brought along a friend, so for a while I showed them how to repot, how to care for uprooted stuff, how to weed and trim, until they vanished discreetly back to the television.
But we kept going. And by the end of the day the whole bed was dug over and a second bed built, and bricks and logs and rolled up tumbleweeds of chicken wire got stacked up in a slightly tidy way. Both compost bins were emptied and wheelbarrowed over to the new bed, filling it more or less half way up, with the usual revelations of old lost teaspoons and hair ties and bits of toys.
Like a gardening show, only much, much slower.
Most of the surface of the old patch was taken over by oxalis and onion grass, and it was only about half a day of weeding later that I realised these aren’t the same thing, even though both spread by exploiting efforts to remove them. As fast as you dig them out, they subdivide and scatter, and propagate themselves further. Tiny white bulblets are suddenly everywhere, diving back into the earth as the surprised worms are also doing.
So I was taken aback after an afternoon of ruthlessly hunting them down and piling their white clusters in a heap on the concrete to learn that oxalis is from the wood-sorrel family, and goes by multiple names, most quite lyrical. The French say “Alleluia”.
At the end of it all we sat exhausted and watched the surface of the turned earth. It takes a while to get your eye attuned, and then you see that the soil is speeding with activity. Beetles, spiders, centipedes, worms. They’re all hard at work dealing with the calamity, settling it, making it good again.
Ruth Rosenhek says that what we need “are new forms of culture that not only include a reverence for and identification with all life forms but also a commitment to their future, as one diverse and rich earth community.”