I like my garden so much more now that I've got over the need to control every aspect of its appearance. It used to be, once upon a time, that I couldn't enjoy the vegetable beds if a seeding carrot or beetroot was towering in a haphazard way above everything else, or if a spring onion spike suddenly became swollen and fat, developed a lean, and popped out an inflorescence the size of a golf ball. I wanted everything to be even and "Peter Rabbit" neat as a young friend once described my rows of fat perfectly shaped cabbages.
And then, and I can't exactly tell you when it happened, though it may have been the day I realised that commerce was taking over something as fundamental as seed supply, I suddenly woke up to the fact that gardens are living, breathing ecosystems, and that plants going to seed is as natural as wind blowing through trees. It was like an epiphany and suddenly my neat garden of rows and even heights seemed to be lacking something so basic that I knew it had to change.
Nowadays, beautiful, bold umbrella parsnip flowers sway in the breeze, leek seeds encased in transparent paper envelopes sit atop tall green tubes, wizened peas in purple shells snuggle into the yellowing leaves of tired vines, and smooth coriander seeds, bright as beads, shine in bunches among feathery foliage. And amidst it all: the leathery skins of drying broadbean pods and the nodding heads of seeding silver beet, bees dash in a frenzy from plant to plant in search of still open flowers, and yellow dill holds a party for passing butterflies. Suddenly the garden is a hive of energy that has nothing to do with me. It is as if everything is going about its own business and I am just a watcher and a harvester.
Why did no one tell me that observation was as much a part of gardening as toil and sweat, and that a garden is nothing if it cannot live out the cycle of flowering and seed setting. Not that everything has the opportunity to do this, of course, or there would be nothing in a garden to eat! But just as corners should be left for gleaners, so at least some unharvested plants should be left to run to seed.
This autumn, I am eagerly waiting for warm dry winds to ripen the carrot seeds I've been watching develop all summer. I will go out to them one balmy afternoon while there is still warmth in the day, hold a paper bag beneath the skeleton that was once a flower, and gently shake in the seeds. I've been busy making small envelopes to hold it, decorating each with water colour carrots and carefully labelling and dating in fine black pen. I'll tuck a few pinches of seeds inside each and use my sewing machine to stitch the packets closed. Then I'll add to each small package the name of a gardening friend to whom it will be given, and pop it in their mail box. Friends and gardens go together – they are pleasures as simple and important as a plant setting seed.