|The potager develops,|
After the coldest spring for 50 years, it's actually hard to know. Or to be more precise, summery weather, so suddenly, is rather disorienting.
But yesterday was the first time that I was joined, in gardening, by other residents of our little block - something that spoke volumes for the change in the air (and, if you'll excuse a little self-congratulation) for my own dedication over the last few months.
Michael disappeared in his car and returned, some time later, with two bags of compost and some polystyrene trays of flowers: begonia and geraniums. And he then took plastic planters and a pot that have been waiting for an age, and filled them.
I took the rake and cleared a space just next to the potager and two of the planters and a pot now line the long edge.
Suddenly, it seems to look more beautiful than for years – if perhaps ever.
A brief bit of background.
This block was built - well, finished - 18 years ago this month. The Other Half and I moved in 18 years ago in July (with Mack and Mabel). We were both low-paid and were renting in the private sector - not being ripped off, but struggling none-the-less.
This was - is - a housing association, shared ownership block. It gave us the chance for a much better life in many way.
We had rather fancied one of the flats on the second floor, overlooking the park. But the moment we asked the housing association if they were okay with cats, they put us into a downstairs one. Until that moment, it hadn't even occurred to use to think that there would be (small) gardens.
There was no gate from the garden into the carpark in those days. It took us until November 2011 to remedy that, when we had the whole garden paved, getting rid of the excuse for a 'lawn' that we'd struggled with since moving in.
As only a slight aside, this is by far and away the longest I've lived in one place in my life and, a few years ago, I realised that it had ceased to be 'a place where I live', and become 'a home'.
But the gate was crucial. Before that, while we knew one or two of our fellow long-term neighbours, we would had to go out of the front door and then into a communal door and out of a rear communal door in order to get to the car park, where some of them socialised.
The block was built on a plot of land that had been a junk yard, with an old pub right on the corner. The up still stands, albeit cowboy-transformed into flats.
And for the first years, the housing association employed a decent gardening company to come and look after the car park area: not just keeping the paving weed free, but also taking care of the three flower beds in the area, two of them stubby fingers, dividing the allotted parking spaces, and one, a rather larger corner affair that partly serves to block off the communal bin area.
That changed a few years ago, when the association put the contract out to tender and got - surprise, surprise - a cheaper offer. Unfortunately, a cheaper offer also meant considerable less actual gardening.
And so, last year, when I had started gardening in pots on the patio, and then found myself desperate for more, my neighbours were so happy for me to dig out a little bit of that big bed in the car park.
And once it had started ...
When we were in France last August, Michael and Lisa simply ripped all the weeds and the dead, rusting bikes, and the dying bush out, so that I came back to what seemed like an enormous space.
We've talked about it ever since, but only this weekend has anyone other than me been out there, doing things.
I do rather like the idea of communal gardening - although it would be nice if the housing association recognised our contribution in terms of the service charge that we pay and which has been unchanged since those contractual changes.
This weekend, before Michael arrived with the flowers, I had weeded with the hoe as usual, thinned the turnips, added support to the broad beans and a third layer of string for the peas, and sown some lovage.
Anca, another of our neighbours - a wonderful artist who gave me a lovely picture for my birthday - loves lovage and has, over the last few years, nursed a single plant in a small pot near one of the communal entrances.
I had decided to find more, and eventually did so. It took me a while, but I found some Duchy Original seeds.
Now I doubt that either Anca or I are great royalists, but Prince Charles's brand is organic and of quality. And on the issue of organic, I find myself utterly in tandem with the old boy.
The communal gardening won't all be very romantic: we're already planning to weed the car park, given that the company being paid to do such things hasn't been seen in months - if this year.
There's a point at which this is annoying. We are being ripped off. W are, after all, still paying the same service charge, which is supposed to include the 'garden' areas.
Yet before I started digging out a tiny part of one flower bed last year, we were still being ripped off. The only difference is that now we've decided that, instead of waiting for some cheapskate company to do something, we'll do it ourselves.
And since I'm paying for it anyway, at least now I'm getting something for my money.
Besides which, if the communal gardening really takes off, then that's probably priceless.