No Dig

Dung and fork

I hate buying flowers.  I don’t like the ones that come in cellophane from the supermarket and are cheap. (Oppressed workers! Farmers bankrupted by ‘50% extra free!’) And I don’t like the ones that come from the florist and are priced by the stem. (How much did you say that comes to? For six chrysanthemums and a spray of gypsophila? HOW MUCH?).


Yes, welcome to the illogical world of my flower buying head.


So I try and grow them myself. If anyone’s going to be oppressed and/or overpaid growing flowers for the Ox then I think it should be me.


I will shove in a quick disclaimer at this point and admit that these confused conversations are now taking place every week between January and March after which hopefully I will sigh with relief as the first stocks and cornflowers appear like magic in the greenhouse.  I am not a winter flower grower. I cannot get excited about gardening between the dog days of September and a sniff of blue sky in January.  I am that nursery owner’s delight and the true horticulturalist’s object of contempt – the out of control, Labrador of a fair weather gardener, bounding up to the till with a mound of paper seed packets on the first sunny day of the year.  Retail nirvana.  Once upon a time it was rhubarb and custard chews, pear drops and sherbert pips at the village corner shop. Now it’s Nigella Persian Jewels, three types of cosmos and an annual determination that this year I will somehow get Larkspur to grow past germination.


Only one thing tempers this crazy annual delight.  The thought of digging.


Yes, I know I should have done it in October, but I didn’t.  My ‘cutting garden’ is a mass of healthy looking weeds, windblown bamboo poles trailing bindweed, and skeletal plants that I denied a decent burial last autumn in the compost heap.  I didn’t want to dig in the autumn and I don’t want to dig now. Even worse, the gardening books that Stephen brings back loyally from Polegate Age Concern all talk about ‘double digging,’ which is possibly one of the most depressing phrases known to man or this woman.  Just typing the words has made the palms of my hands sting with incipient blisters and my back spasm with early rheumatism.  There must be another way of getting this shameful patch of wasteland back into fertile tip top condition all ready for me to float around doing lots of dainty little itty bitty planting. Must gardening be like decorating a room, where all the fun of slapping up a new paint colour is preceded by hours of boring preparation.  To me, digging is just the filling and sanding of gardening.  God, how I hate it.  In desperation, I type into the search engine.  “Please, please, must I dig?’


Apparently not.  There is a beautiful solution.  It is called ‘no dig’ gardening.  The high priest of the movement is a man called Charles Dowding and no guru ever had a more instant or loyal disciple. Anything to get away from sticking a fork in the ground or, worse, tussling with the beast of a rotivator and its propensity to run off with me.  The downside of Mr Dowding’s methods seems to be a heavy reliance on dung to smother the life out of all devilish annual and positively satanic perennial weeds.  Six inches depth of the stuff, he wants!  In the exhilaration of my release, I think: ‘Only six? Let’s make it 10!’  This is a farm and there is no shortage of dung! I am incandescent with joy that this annual torment – digging – may be a thing of the past.


That was three days ago.  Today I have 2 tonnes of dung tipped outside the back door.  Top farmyard stuff, John assures me, compliments of the Sussex cattle in the barn last winter.  I inspect it cautiously. It’s a little bit wet.  And just a little bit smelly, too.   Suddenly I remember that all that dung will have to be forked into a barrow, walked round to the back garden, and spread 10 – perhaps six – inches deep over the entire 7m square plot. Perhaps four inches is enough? And  Stephen has kindly ordered me five tonnes of compost that will shortly be delivered in another even larger heap next to the first.  This, too, will all need to go in a barrow and be tipped on top of the dung.  Two very big brown heaps.  One quite small green barrow.  My back gives the tiniest of twinges.


But it’s all right.  I’m not digging.  And I do hate buying flowers.