Sunday, 12 June 2011

Sunday in the garden - Life on Pig Row - Here on Pig Row I am building a new garden


Here on Pig Row I am building a new garden for my wife. It will be sited by her new office, under a spreading elder tree. At present this new office garden is a freshly dug piece of earth rich with peat. This is how the plot at Pig Row runs from peat to sand stone, from north to south, down hill to the valley floor and the back of our house. It runs from the worst of the winds to the silence of the walls that run around our house, here we are nurtured, kept safe from the worst of the weather.


The house at Pig Row is hewn from the land, as if a giant came, stumbled and reached down, scooped up the stone and earth and spent awhile whittling them before placing them back down into the hole left by his hands. The house is not on the horizon, the house is the horizon, it is the hillside, it is the lane outside our house, it is the meadow across the lane, it has been part of this world of farms, stone walls, cows and horses for four centuries. Things pass here as they have always passed, neighbours talk, and tells tales of those who once lived here. At Pig Row, a name that lingers long after the pigs have gone, there are tales of a wrestler who worked the mills by day and wrestled in our meadow before his dinner for a few shillings; wrestling in the mud, between the snorting pigs, moulding the earth with his throws, pin downs and holds. When I ask why they didn’t wrestle behind the house, an old neighbour laughs, looks at me and tells me that if you’re going to fall you want to fall on peat not sandstone.

Each sod I turn in my wife’s new office garden, I wonder, I fear I will find a wrestling belt, a trophy, a leotard or the dumb bells of a strong man along with his giant moustache. There is only stone, the remains of a collapses dry stone wall, replaced half a century ago by a hawthorn hedge. I get scratched by the thorns as I lever giant blocks of stone out of the soil, the stone is rolled away and stacked for other places in the garden, the wall by the arbour in the fruit and herb garden, the path by the glasshouse, where ever this stone belongs it will tell me.

The longer you spend in a garden, the more tuned you come to its movements, its whispered words and this stone has been buried for so long that it is happy just to bask in the sun and rain for a season before it finds its new home for as long as I garden at Pig Row.

As the stone is cleared I pull out the weeds, cut back the runners from the hedge and erect three large wigwams. At the base of each of them I plant sweet peas, Noel Sutton and White Leamington, nip out each shoot to get them to bush out, to produce more flowers. Even after a few hours, there is a sense of urgency in their growth, they stretch and by the end of summer they will have covered the wigwam.

There are more plants waiting to get in the ground, purple hostas, lupins, oriental poppies, honesty, geraniums and ladies mantle. There are plans for a seat beneath the elder tree, a scented rambler rose for its branches, a new plant amongst those that I brought from old garden at Drovers. My wife’s office garden will be a full, fat, sumptuous cottage garden, a remembrance of our old house in our new garden. 

Andrew Oldham writes about gardening at Pig Row. Pig Row is split into three gardens, the fruit & herb garden, the allotment and the meadow. These gardens are spread over a quarter of an acre on top of the Pennines. Weather is not a problem there, it is a lifestyle. He has received no formal training in gardening. He ignored the gardening wisdom his father told him and opted to eat fresh peas straight from the pod. In his defence he was only six. He has learnt from his experiences of building several gardens from scratch and working an allotment. Andrew is an organic gardener and keeps chickens. His work has featured in The Sunday Times MagazineGrow Your OwnThe Cottage Gardener and on BBC Radio Four. He is an ex-BBC Journalist. He still eats most of the peas before they get to the kitchen but learnt to listen to his father.