Free stuff is the zenith of the gardener’s life, the soil tender’s greatest thrill.
I may tell myself that I chat up my neighbors out of a post-quarantine craving for connection. I can pretend that I haul myself outside for a swift ten thousand steps because I’ve finally learned the value of tending myself, body and spirit. But the truth is that I have one motivation for every social interaction, city walk, or strenuous cycle ride: free stuff.
Free stuff is the zenith of the gardener’s life, the soil tender’s greatest thrill. For me, at least, buying plants comes with a sense of overwhelming indecision, guilt, regret. Could I really need another salvia? How many mints are too many? The doting pride I feel when growing plants from seed is dampened by the reality of my garden’s lack of space; every new seedling generates mild panic as I squish it into an overstuffed container. But adopting, or stealing, or being given plants is entirely different: an unalloyed joy.
Being a gardener has an odd way of attracting the kindness of strangers. When I moved into my new flat, tore out the ivy and brambles, and began to show off the garden to my friends, they’d look puzzled. Where were the plants? Rather than laughing, they rallied: a spare rosemary, an olive, a Carolina allspice. I loved them, because they were my friends’, but even more exciting was being given plants with pasts. A famous musician’s neighbor stole some of his escaped raspberry canes for me. A Twitter acquaintance had an excess of strawberry runners, moss-wrapped from the Scottish Highlands. Gradually, news of my passionate greed has spread. I’m the sucker who hears from the friend’s friend trying to rehome his etiolated Irish Gardener’s Delight tomato seedlings; from my sister, seeking a home for the avocado plant she grew by accident, during the first lockdown, under her desk at work; from my friend Shauneen, a pioneering human-rights lawyer, who bestows upon others the gift of justice and, on me, bin-bags full of rabbit poo for compost. I rarely catch a train without bearing donated succulent-babies before me, like a page. And, yes, I will joyfully accept your spare greengage saplings, all six, if you’re asking…
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