There are some nice things about owning an old garden. Firstly, the soil is usually pretty good, having been cultivated for… Well, in my current garden, for two and a half centuries, and the previous one for twice that. But other things too… Spent the morning banging in nails. For the last couple of years, the birds haven’t noticed my blackcurrants. Surprising, especially as the bushes were doing so well on the north side of the wall at the end of the garden. Last year, there was a bit of blackbird thieving, but nothing too alarming, and anyway it amused me to see how they skulk about when taking fruit, but don’t in the least skulk when taking worms from the lawn. How do they know that I feel that I own the blackcurrant, but don’t feel I own the worms in my lawn? Anyway, as I like blackcurrant jelly inordinately, and like the warm puree poured over my ice cream (when allowed), and as there are blackbird families every few yards down the old hedge on one side of the garden, I thought I’d do something this season. Pecked half-ripe berries were appearing on the flagstone path that fronts the blackcurrant bed.
Having bought some smart green netting, I looked out the bag of sturdy 6″ nails. I had thought I’d put a wooden rail along the top of the wall and hang the netting from that, but in the event, it seemed more sensible to bang nails into the mortar between the stones, put a wire along them, and sling the netting from it.
I’d not really looked that carefully at the wall before, well, apart from worrying about a large crack down it caused by a hugely over-enthusiastic ivy, now thankfully mostly departed. In the event, I didn’t need all the nails I thought I did. There were all sorts of previous bits of ironware already in place. Some were reasonably modern. Screws. Bent nails. However, some, rustier, were much older, much more picturesque, hand made on a forge, probably somewhere on the village green, original functions now unclear, re-used perhaps many times… Door hinges, upside down, perhaps something to do with the now vanished pig stys; hooks with sharp points like some still in the kitchen beams, no doubt for hanging up hams from said pig; cleats for keeping window frames hard up against stone, and so on. Bits of latch. Oh, and rusty hand-wrought nails too.
What were they for? What gardener had used them, for holding up what plants? A north wall is no good for most apples or pears. Morellos would have been too grand for the owners of the minute cottages that go to make the current house. Ordinary cherries too vigorous. Rasps perhaps, perhaps the ones the now line the lane. Gooseberries? They can fan train fairly easily, and there was, a few years ago, one growing out of a crack in the wall head. I plan to have some in the new kitchen garden… But for a 7′ wall like this – blackcurrants perhaps?
So, who were these past gardeners? Were they, like me, on a June morning, busy out hammering in nails to keep the blackbirds at bay? Did they make jam, or cordial, or wine? What? Sugar was hugely expensive. No fridges and freezers. We’ve not found any broken preserving jars in the midden out in the wood – though endless medicine bottles, ink bottles, a few bits of wine glass.
Still, the June mornings would have been as lovely. The air coming down from the hills as fresh and sweet. This morning, so much the same, doing something they once did, I felt kin to them. A nice feeling.