Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A taste of the Unexpected - Mark Diacono

Or Armchair Gardening and Brian Friel

The two don’t really have anything in common bar the blonde tearing me away from my armchair and its plethora of activities this evening with bribes of cultural activity. The local theatre has had a Friel festival going on for the last few weeks and she was determined we should go – so off we went tonight for ‘Translations’. One of the things I really love about living in a city is that we can turn up at a theatre (I also love living within walking distance of a theatre) on the off chance and get cheapish standby tickets. I know next to nothing about Friel, but enjoyed ‘Translations’ and would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in language, identity as it relates to language, and Irish history and culture. The blonde is passionate about all of those things so delighted with the play. I’m quite interested in all of those things and was delighted by the scent of peat as we walked into the theatre.

Peat smoke is the smell of home and childhood to me and I’m now sitting here buried up past nose level in a jumper that is splendidly redolent of peat and wool. It’s making me very happy and has put me in the mood for making plans... In this case garden plans. I no longer have a garden of my own; when there’s work to be done the Scottish one likes to refer to his garden as mine (though if I suggest that things need buying it goes back to being his garden and new plants become unnecessary...) but good as he is in letting me dig and weed to my heart’s content it’s not really the same. I miss having my own patch of earth to mess around with which is why this is the best time of year to read gardening books.

No really it is – I like drawing up wish lists and imagining the perfect Eden summer will bring, an Eden that doesn’t involve heavy clay soil, is oblivious to north facing aspects, and certainly takes no account of cost. Probably one that will water itself on the many occasions I’m not there to tend to it as well. When spring comes I need to be practical about what can be done out there but just now I’m spending some serious time with Mark Diacono’s ‘A taste of the unexpected’ and it’s very exciting. (This is another book that’s just begging to be a present.)

Diacono’s philosophy that life’s too short (and gardening possibly too much effort) to grow the things we can buy easily and cheaply anywhere really appeals to me. I love the idea of growing and eating more exotic produce – especially when it comes to fruit and nuts, after all who wouldn’t want to eat an apricot picked straight from the tree? Mark started off with a couple of Jane Grigson books which helped form the basis of his personal wish list; it’s an approach that I can relate to – most my gardening desires stem from recipe’s involving irritatingly elusive ingredients but what really sets this book apart is the blending of practicality with fancy.

Each plant comes with helpful advice about varieties, growing, harvesting, and of course cooking which is suitably inspirational but just before I get carried away there are also sensible warnings about – well about not getting carried away. I’m urged to consider plants which will yield almost immediate results as well as ones which will take years to produce, not to reject the easy winners, to think seasonally so that there are exciting things throughout the year and plenty of other good planning tips. The expert gardener will be casting me pitying looks by now, but I don’t care – I’m getting lots of ideas and finding them in a form that gives me the confidence to have a go. Some books make me feel like I can change my life and this is one of them.

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