‘Yours is a glorious country, Honeychurch!’ These words echo in my head every time I cycle to my allotment these days, although slightly adapted to local conditions, that is, the Rijnsburgerweg in Leiden: ‘Yours is glorious weather, Honeychurch!’ They come from A Room with a View; in the film they are spoken by the wonderful Denholm Elliott, playing the equally wonderful Mr Emerson, and he delivers them with a mad flourish of the hand, as if fencing or doffing an ornate hat. They seem very suitable words for current circumstances, the magnolias may have finished flowering but lots of other trees are in bloom and those that don’t flower acquire a little more green, each one a different shade, every day, making me once again grateful that I have an allotment, and am allowed to go to it.
Working there yesterday I was reminded of Bob Flowerdew (clearly from the same universe as the Honeychurch family), an unforgettable contributor to the BBC programme Gardeners’ World, in its long ago glory days, when I was first interested in gardening. Bob Flowerdew had a long blond plait, a semi-rural (perhaps Essex) accent and a huge organic garden; he was also full of useful organic tips, the most memorable being recycling the beer he drank by peeing on the compost heap. I used to tape these programmes for friends who didn’t have cable television and years afterwards we were still talking about Bob’s unusual habits.
One piece of advice of his, which I actually followed, was to suppress weeds by spreading a bit of old carpet on the ground. We happened to have some old carpet, a large expanse of it, muddy brown, not very good quality, in our new house, so I took some of it and laid it out beside the greenhouse. This was old and a bit rickety and the old carpet beside it looked indescribably awful, like a rubbish dump with pretensions. But I believed Bob, and left it there, and after a bit the bindweed appeared, just as it did every spring, but now through the carpet, making it look even worse.
Over the years the carpet disintegrated, as Bob had said it would, and I hadn’t thought of it for ages, not until yesterday while weeding that area. There they were, little tufts of brown nylon mixed in with the weeds and the seedlings to be saved, and there can be few more ridiculous things to bring tears to one’s eyes. I was on my knees, in this glorious weather, looking at ancient bits of carpet, but what I heard was Rudy’s voice saying how utterly – one of his favorite words – hideous it looked. It was as if he was right there beside me, more real than when I deliberately try to summon him up. And he was right, of course, it did look awful. It was ten years ago last Saturday that he died, and there I was, stopped dead in my tracks by what must surely be the strangest remnants of our life together.