While the invaders in our Brittany garden were welcomed by my wife they had me in a real spin. I am a very tidy gardener, not to say obsessional, and in my view these six, albeit very imposing invaders simply got in the way. They would have seeded themselves in the spring and by the time we arrived in early June, two of them were two metres high, two were over half a meter in diameter, and the final two were almost three metres in length – these had fallen over but were still flowering. I argued for them to be uprooted but Rohan’s view was different. She argued that they were courageous and valued guests who had chosen to be there and who deserved protection; her position prevailed.
Ultimately, their overlong survival – they were finally removed in August – was by courtesy of the way we manage the garden. First, Mother Nature plays a dominant role; it was, after all, she who delivered our intruders; somehow her wishes need to be respected. Second, at an executive level, the key responsibility in the flower-and-shrub department is in Rohan’s hands. There, under her supervision, I am the labourer. By contrast, when it comes to the more physically demanding elements – mowing, wall building, managing the firewood or the compost, I come into my own. Responsibility for the vegetable beds is shared, with around half under Rohan’s control and the rest under mine. This year, my beds have been given over to growing leeks, onions and potatoes.
The contrast between our management styles is plain to see. Whereas in my leek bed, for example, all the plants are spaced meticulously and in ordered rows; in the neighbouring beds the notion of such order is eschewed with different vegetables often intermingled and ‘interesting’ strangers tolerated, even welcomed.
Our protected interlopers consisted of a giant hollyhock that chose to grow bang in the middle of our ‘breakfast’ terrace, a ‘velvet’ plant (mullein or verbascum) that had blocked off part of our parking space, two supine hollyhocks that crawled their way across a path and into a fruit bush, and two exuberant poppies, one of which overflowed across a path and the other across a vegetable patch. If I had had my way, they would have been pulled out months earlier.
Our different approaches to garden management seem to have a logic, possibly reflecting how we each manage our minds generally. But when one examines other aspects of our lives, and here I refer to different domains within the house, thoughts of any such logic collapse. My obsessional approach does continue into the cellar where tools, paints and electrical supplies, for example, are all tidily arranged for easy access. However, in the bedroom any semblance of obsession has been abandoned, such that finding any order is impossible. The contents of the chest of drawers housing my clothes are all mixed up and in no particular order – at least not one to which I am privy. Finding anything takes hours. So, for example, my shirts and underwear could be in the same drawer as my socks (not necessarily in pairs), while my shorts could be found lodged with pullovers, night attire and the occasional unpaired glove. I manage dressing, but only just.
For Rohan, too, there are real inconsistencies. The laissez-faire approach in the garden has no place in the house. In the kitchen, the tea-towels and the napkins have their allotted place and strays are quickly spotted and redirected. Likewise, in her walk-in wardrobe; everything is tidily ordered, pairs are stored as pairs, and nothing is out of place.
It is interesting that while we have clear inconsistencies, both within ourselves and between each other, they rarely get in the way of our relationship. In many ways we celebrate difference, though when it comes to the more fundamental issues, we agree. Marriage is an unfathomable business, and if all goes to plan it will soon be fifty one years since we met. Some would say that Mother Nature had a hand in this too.