Sandy's Garden ... Forward to the Past

In a contribution to the letters’ column in my daily newspaper, a correspondent advocated some changes which every Scot could make to their habits in order to avert the destruction of our planet.

Monday, 18th October 2021, 10:42 am

I was not aware of doing more than skim-reading the letter – but I must have given it more attention than I thought at the time for, looking out at a sodden garden as I write these words, the lifestyle of a long-dead maternal aunt swam into my mind.

She lived in Newburgh in Fife, in a really small cottage which had been the family home for several generations. There was a large garden to the rear, a garden in which were located a small washhouse and a tiny outside toilet in my earlier years.

The garden was a model of modern propriety, supplying my aunt with most of the food consumed in her home.

Falkirk Herald gardening guru Sandy Simpson

I recall the footpath which extended from the back of the house to the hillside fence, a distance of some forty yards I estimate, a weed-strewn track along one side of which extended the clothes line – there was no drying green, of course.

The soft fruit bushes occupied an area close to the house … blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries.

There was also a stout netting-fronted hutch, the home of several ferrets which my aunt’s married brother used on the neighbouring hillsides to kill rabbits – not to eliminate pests but to supply the cooking pot. #

I was forbidden to go near these ferrets; And how I hated entering the washing shed where the dead rabbits were hung to mature!

The greater part of the ground was given over to vegetable production. I think that every then-common type of vegetable which would grow in the fertile Fife soil of Mount Pleasant was grown in my aunt’s garden – broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbages, carrots, cauliflowers, leeks, lettuce, peas, swedes and turnips – and potatoes, of course

Oh yes, in the most traditional manner, potatoes and turnips were allocated the greater part of the garden.

The perfect year-round accompaniment to rabbit stew was, in my aunt’s view, potatoes and turnip; had she heard of lapin a la cocotte (French rabbit stew) she would never have dreamt of serving it.

And remember, the vegetables grew among the native plants which grew on the adjacent hillside, generously sharing their seeds (rewilding?) – nor should you forget that there was an absence of any kind of weedkillers.

With these memories to hand, I looked out on my garden – I could site the henhouse over there and the potatoes where these shrubs are – I could turn the drying green into a salad plants area and grow turnips and brassicas at the front, the soft fruit bushes could be … nah, perhaps not.

Annie could manage her garden when she was agile and able, but not in her later years; and, though forward to the past may save the planet, I couldn’t cope with this scenario.