Most of the back gardens in our street are nicely decked out with well-mown lawns, ornamental ponds and fittingly planted flower beds. At least mine is. Not so that of my near neighbour and friend, Jim, whose unmanicured patch is given over to beans, tomatoes, marrows, squash, fruit trees, raspberries, strawberries. Jim tends this in a wandering sort of way, picking his way through tangled thickets of unkempt plants, for Jim is one of nature’s socialists, enjoying the unkempt garden sprawl of his garden as a foil to our small-town conformity. For him, plants, brambles and shrubs can shift for themselves like an unfettered market, sadly, much at odds with his lifelong socialist dream of a planned economy. A retired GP and practising Catholic, Jim cares for fellow human beings at large as well he did for his erstwhile patients. This gentle affection is carried into and from the vegetable garden, where he can be seen pottering much of the day occasionally pulling out something eatable for himself and Mary, both vegetarians. Jim not so much harvests as gleans his own produce.
He is also a devoted, if too tolerant, grandfather. Once, in his September garden I asked why he was not propping up several six-foot sunflowers, falling over and into themselves like drunken Triffids.
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I grow those only for the children so they can look up and be amazed.’
‘As one would to heaven?’ I asked.
Rarely provoked, he gave me his quiet smile.