Jason’s restorative handicraft gives him a satisfaction that no simple purchase can match.
Quarantine came three years ago with the heat: I see boys fiddling with bicycles in the garden, Izzy and I making cucumber frames out of old windows. Admittedly not just for utility, for while a productive garden has its own beauty (plants in close rows like postcard buttons; bean poles and wigwams breaking the horizon), I appreciate the Platonic archetype of the ideal. It is inspired and reinforced by the striking gardens at West Dean where we once lived, surrounded by sunken greenhouses built by Foster & Pearson in the 1890s; or my aunt’s potager in the village of Wiltshire, surrounded by crooked apple trees; or an exhibition at the Haslemere Museum of Helen Allingham’s incredibly charming Surrey cottages, with the housewife at her gate and the children sleeping like phloxes on the rutted driveway.
My earliest and deepest inspiration comes from Beatrix Potter’s illustrations of the world’s most famous pot, a paradise teeming with beauty, danger, parsley and fresh carrots. Described in detail in three books, including The Tale of Flopsy RabbitsMr. McGregor’s exemplary garden is, among other things, a small pond, a frame of cucumbers, a brick wall, a shed full of pots and galvanized watering cans, half an acre of cabbage, and an old pear tree.
“I don’t think gardening has known such pleasure since Mr. Foster first shook Mr. Pearson’s hand.”
So during the hours I spent the last week or two filling the trays with seeds, I was sustained by a vision of late summer, enlivened by the cawing of rooks and the fluttering of doves in beeches, artful rakes leaning against the wall. , a shovel meaningfully sticks into the ridges of a potato patch, a galvanized watering can filled to the brim on the path, and all the other pleasant clichés of the evening garden.
In fact, we made do with rhubarb chimneys until Kate struck a deal at auction: three battered and voluminous forcers about 3 feet tall that may have come from a walled garden furnished by Foster & Pearson themselves. Just looking at them elevated my playing to F&P levels, and out of sheer pride, I singled them out at the front door, grouped together like beehives for neolithic dwarfs. Pride in Lent must be restrained, otherwise it may be curbed for you.
An unnamed friend, whom I’ll call Vee instead of Veronica for convenience, arrived in a van for lunch and drove away, taking all three pots, leaving them smashed into piles of varying sizes, from a dinner plate to microflakes.
I like to remember the Ottoman Pasha, recorded by Edward Lear, who, when Lear trampled on his entire amber-smoking apparatus, simply waved his hand and declared that while under normal circumstances breaking his mouthpiece would have been a disaster, there was charm in every act. So when a week later I ran into Vee and she told me she was looking for boosters to replace the ones that had broken under her wheels, I was able to imitate the pasha. The evenings I spent gluing pots together with Gorilla Glue and Milliput were, in some ways, the most satisfying of the season, on par with the serene days of early quarantine.
The Japanese know all about it: they repair broken porcelain with a golden thread that enhances the beauty of the product and adds history to it. They call it kintsugi. I missed the gold – the stronger terracotta pots required clamps and glue – but in the end I love them even more than before. It is now my work, the creation of my own hands and eyes, and I do not think that gardening has known such pleasure since Mr. Foster first shook Mr. Pearson’s hand.
An unforgettable week at the helm of a metal monster turned Jason Goodwin’s head.
Jason Goodwin tells the story of his friends Keith and Maureen Cockcroft: roofers, tilers, trailblazers and Hell’s Angels.
Credit: Getty Images
Jason Goodwin fights rats and loses.
Jason Goodwin pays tribute to an old friend and mentor.