“Stop reading and start digging.” Yes madam! Good advice from a friend, delivered in plain language, after I whinged about the low-level anxiety that comes from endlessly following links on websites. Good websites, with really useful information about building and chickens, stove top kettles, drainage, which apple trees to grow, local birds, cast iron cookware, earthen floors, whippets’ habits, guest houses in Brittany. An investigation into wall render can indeed, in the course of two hours, lead to a guest house in Brittany and then it’s 12am and the fire has gone out.
And that’s just the internet. My bedside reading is growing, not shrinking – the more I try to devour, the more I don’t know. I’m trying to get a design together for what will become the gardens in front of the dairy – a sizeable chunk of dirt. And I want to do it right. Of course the idea of getting it right from the start is a nonsense in gardening. But fear of making some big expensive mistakes is paralysing me somewhat. I’ve never dealt with so large a project, with so many elements.
So there’s that holding me back from making cuts in the dirt, and then there’s the weather. It’s been rainy and foggy (and splendid.) It’s bloody nice inside by this fire.
But, following Miri’s directive, I did get out into the mud today. I planted a nice patch of garlic in the couple of square metres friend Kaz dug out a few months ago. I had to work hard to get hold of this garlic. Pep, a normally generous man with a LOT of garlic seed, would not, despite repeated mewling from me, give any of it up. Sure, it’s his cash crop. But could he not spare a little? Is this stuff really gardeners’ gold?
I sat quietly for many months, hoping for a melt in Pep’s resolve. And then, unexpectedly, after a day helping him and his partner in the garlic business plant a portion of their 20,000 seeds, a few bulbs were thrown my way, and not by Pep. I’m not sure how he feels about it, but I’m not asking!
So, digging done, back to the books. I am very fond of two at the moment. One is a beautiful cookbook called Rosa’s Farm. It is written by my neighbour Rosa Mitchell and is a love letter to Yandoit, expressed in recipes that give a firm nod to both her Sicilian roots and her love of the simple and local. I have known Rosa for years, as she cooked for a time near my bar in Fitzroy. But when I bought here in Yandoit five years later, I didn’t know she owned a house just metres down the road. Or that her brother Pep would become my builder (and withholder of garlic.)
The other book I am reading constantly is A Pattern Language, published by a collection of architects and academics out of California in 1977. Possibly the nicest gift I’ve ever received, this tome seems to be about everything. The authors advocate people designing their own houses, streets and communities – if you understand the language of patterns, then you can design and construct spaces. It’s a book of astonishing common sense filled with handwritten drawings and some pretty firm opinions expressed with a certain charm:
“There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy.” “If there is a beautiful view, don’t spoil it by building huge windows that gape incessantly at it.” “Houses with smooth hard walls made of prefabricated panels, concrete, gypsum, steel or glass always stay impersonal and dead.”
Chapters on snoozing in public, gathering on steps, the hierarchy of open areas, teenage society. 1000 pages I can’t read fast enough. If you are interested in space and connectedness and fantastic ideas from the ’70s that seem to have been largely ignored subsequently, read this book.