If our stays in Brittany were to be part of a play, models for the stage sets and the dramatis personae, are already established.

There would be two sets and, based on the arrangements in our home, some scenes would take place inside, in the main living room, and some outside in the vegetable patch. The room inside is on the ground floor. The house is an end-of-terrace, early nineteenth century, converted stable. The room is long and light with a floor of terracotta tiles. It stretches from a kitchen, at one end, to a dining area, in the middle, to a sitting room with a wood-burning fire at the other. On one side there is a wide, former carriage door leading to the garden. The ambiance is warm and homely, its furniture modest with much of it second-hand. Overall it is comfortable as opposed to minimalist or flamboyant. Mounted on the walls are shelves with books, statues and knick-knacks, hanging between them are pictures. There is no television to be seen.

The vegetable patch, or allotment, is laid out with a series of framed, raised beds separated by narrow gravel paths. The beds are variously occupied by herbs, fruit bushes and vegetables. There are some weeds, but these are sparse. From here one can see an orchard and, beyond that, an overgrown meadow.

The play would have four dramatis personae: my wife Rohan, myself and, with dramatic license, the house and the garden. From my blogs, readers will already know about me and, to an extent, about Rohan. We have been partners for half a century and with years of life together, of non-stop intellectual challenges and of new insights as we continue to learn from and about each other, the marriage is clearly a good one. As for the house, it (he) is so much part of us that his place as the third character is as good as guaranteed.

Now to the garden, which is an odd candidate for being the fourth character. It (she) is truly protean. Apart from hosting countless varieties of wildlife, with her coquettishness, her demands, her generosity and her endless surprises, she regularly insinuates herself into family conversation. As with any character, she responds well if looked after, in her case through weeding, pruning, watering and the provision of nutriments – compost. These favours are returned handsomely in the form of prettiness and production. She is such an unusual choice it might help if I give some more detail, focussing particularly on her capacity to surprise and to be generous.

An example of surprise. Part of her terrain is overrun by grasses and weeds. Amongst the plants she grows there is wild, purple-flowered, Joe-Pye Weed ( Eupatorium purpureum), which, personally, I see as ugly. One sunny afternoon this summer, my view changed when I discovered that the Joe-Pye was playing host to hundreds of butterflies. Wherever I looked there were peacocks (mainly) and red admirals. It was a beguiling sight. Without any help from us, she had worked wonders in creating a place of beauty which, hopefully will become a precious sanctuary.

Now to her generosity. Just by looking at the numbers of buds and the quantity of blossom, we soon realised that this year she would produce, and then deliver, bumper crops of wild cherries, blackcurrants, onions, strawberries, green beans and maize. What we did not know, and one never can, was the size of the yield of vegetables that grow underground. The biggest question for us related to the sweet potatoes which we planted as shoots in May. In June their stems were earthed up. Then followed a long wait. There was no sign from above ground as to what we might expect and for weeks, as the stems proliferated and finally overflowed on to the surrounding paths, we thought the worst – a barren yield!

Once the leaves began to turn yellow, the digging – with our hands rather than a spade – began. As though out of nowhere, first one beautiful mauve sweet potato, then another, were found and coaxed out of the soil. Slowly she yielded up her treasures and in the process we were spellbound. There were about thirty potatoes in all, irregularly shaped and clustering together deep under the main stem, some the size of pineapples. In her modest way she had done us proud, and the potatoes are delicious.

Here then is the skeleton of a play for someone to ponder over. How the plot might develop is anyone’s guess, but at least the sets and the characters, including the garden with her endless topics of conversation, have been defined. Over to you Mr or Mrs author.

The photo for the illustration was taken by Sarah Campbell


2 thoughts on “A Most Generous Character

  1. Every moment in our lives is simply a snapshot in time-a captured moment in a continuous process. I have been a delighted guest at your Brittany dining table, out in the garden, with the gentlest wind coming in from the Atlantic with the sound of waves, a little way down the track.
    You grew the onions, the exquisite baby beans, and the rhubarb we enjoyed that night. But I wasn’t there for the planting and the tending and the weeding and the watering, only the triumphant moment months later when one of you said with excitement “I think we could almost have these for dinner – maybe even tonight”.
    Thick Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist teacher, is remembered by many for the way he would hold up a single sheet of paper and talk about how in his mind’s eye he could see in the paper the trees’ seed sprouting, growing in the sunlight, the clouds watering, birds making their homes in the trees’ branches, the tree being felled by timber men who made a living and fed their children by harvesting trees for the mill. How much more richly can you feel this continuum when you yourself have sown the seeds and watered the seedling and so often walked down to the vegetable patch to see how things were going.

    We could all do with a vegetable patch in Brittany.


  2. Dear Robert, Perhaps I should have added in the blog how we four, that is Rohan, me, the house and the garden, love it when friends come and stay and enjoy the pleasures of our little haven. Your comment reminds me of one such lovely visit. Joe


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