A collection of articles for the Bourne & Hollingsworth Group…
…by Rob the in-house gardener.
ISSUE 5: SUMMER SEASON
The wild. Why I’ve loved working for B & H Buildings. The wild. Furniture has stolen in from the garden and sat itself next to outrageous palm-print arm chairs, Cocktails are shaken, stirred and shot out of a cannon and Below & Hidden is simply a savage beast lying in waiting. The wild infuses this place and is a necessary garnish to the greyness of London. Over my tenure here, I’ve tried to make my own wild impression. Ivy climbing the walls, moss floating in the bathrooms, strawberries hanging over door frames.
I like the wild a lot, call it a preternatural lust, a yearning from another side. I have a recurring dream where I’m walking under a green canopy of lush exotic foliage, the light streaks through in pinhole beams and there’s a soundtrack of different primates and parrots all layered over the rhythmic drumming of water drops hitting that infinite panel of giant leaves. In the dream, I return to my cabin home which is built into the hollow of a rocky cliff overlooking the verdant valley. Approaching the door, passing under my very own glistening waterfall, I’m fumbling for my keys and I realise that I haven’t got my phone because I left it at Jack’s house and now I have to go back and get it which is annoying and frustrating- annoying because I’ve gotta spend 40 minutes on the tube, frustrating because I can’t remember if his road was on the first or second left and then all the houses on the street look the same anyway. I could buy a map, but can you buy a map these days? I can’t call of course but maybe I could email him but he’s the kind of person who never checks their emails which is basically selfish. I actually think it’s better if we’re not friends. But I do want my phone so I’m just going to have suck it up. I could buy a new phone. I could buy a new friend?
-Why am I having this as my dream?!
What happened to cliff cabins and waterfalls? That, that was amazing. Why can’t I be there!
The dream is now over, and as I awake the reality is I still have my phone.
I doubt that Jung would call this an archetypal dream experience but I’m sure he’d agree on which recurring part suggests a healthy subconscious.
So there it is I want to live in the wild and I’m convinced I’m not the only one. That said, I do quite like the city. I love being near so many of my friends. I like meeting people. I love being surrounded by new ideas, new foods, new environments. The city isn’t so bad, it can’t be; even God-of-the-jungle Bear Gryll’s is buying in Battersea. When it comes to work, play and raising our kids most of us, with the exceptions of Robinson Crusoe or Captain Fantastic, prefer the urban environment (if you disagree with that- then embrace your primal urge to strip down, roar, paint stripes on chest and run giblets out to Epping Forest to live off it’s rugged fauna for the rest of your days). By force or serendipity we’ve all found our way here, Zone 1, the modern and historic centre of the civilized universe. And we’ll probably keep coming back here. So what does that say for our wild side? Does nature have to wait in the slips? If we compromise, will a few regimented tree lines in suburbia do it for us? Do we really want to be surrounded by waterfalls and oxygenating lifeforms?
Do the city and the jungle have to forever be set at permanent odds to one another?
Can we bring the jungle to the city?
Yep, you guessed my answer!
ISSUE 6: AUTUMN SEASON
WHAT’S A FARM LOOK LIKE?
When the first person picked and carried, stored and buried a seed; the chap next to them said ‘ooh brog ya’ which would be Neanderthal for: ‘Are you crazy mate?’ and then ‘chum fa bra bra bun’ which is something like ‘the god’s will burn you’. To which the seed-carrier almost certainly replied: ‘Actually when you think about it Urt, if this plant grows and creates food it will mean that we no longer have to walk 10 hours a day looking for food. We can stay here and build grain stores, schools, hospitals and Hadron Colliders. Urt, this simple act will change the world more than you can possibly imagine!’ Urt’s eyes softened momentarily as he felt the universe open and his mind reaching out to touch it’s infinite possibilities, very slowly he said: ‘Ooh brog ya’ and left that frontal lobe of his to subside. Agriculture did change the world, Urt went hungry and our seed-carrying ancestor evidently had more grandkids.
Fast forward to the age of the Hadron Collider, humankind stands on the precipice of its second revolution and it’s harvest-time. I mention harvest-time because the revolution has less to do with passing political eccentricity and more to do with agriculture. Welcome to the world of Agritech. Smart farming. Machines. That’s right, the machines are coming. Well technically they’re already here really, there are veg-factories where tomatoes can be grown, assorted and packaged without ever being touched by a human hand. GPS-enabled tractors can efficiently seed and plough multiple fields a day while moisture-levels and crop yield are monitored from the air by drones. I speak a lot of guff about Neanderthals and command a questionable respect for the truth, however, these particular trivia aren’t pulled from the pages of an H G Wells or Asimov novella. They are science-fact and they represent the tip of an agritech iceberg on a collision course with civilisation as we know it.
I’m a gardener and I spend most of my life with my hands in the earth. Daily, I’m constantly reminded of the riches all the world’s soils provide. It’s a simple joy to witness the arrival of a flower from a bulb my hands have buried or eat a fruit from a tree that my hands have tended. Looking out over my gardens, I feel I have some agency in this ever-changing world.
So, perhaps the idea that most of this can and probably will be done by machines run on a cloud of digital complexity could upset an old romantic like me as a sad reflection of the times in which we live. ‘Are you crazy mate?’ I could ask.
In the last issue of The Chronicle, I shared my dream of a verdant city teeming with edible greenery at every corner. It is wild and abundant. A jungle city. What I didn’t share is my little secret.
In my humble bedchamber I have a 3-tiered farm. I grow wasabi, coriander, ginger and a rare strain of Gynostemma tea that climbs where it fancies. Water cascades from level to level. Each level a landscape, which together make a painting. Orchids, spider plants and various succulents compliment the edibles and tie it into my room’s décor. At night its subtle lights cut through the foliage to give a warm natural glow, enough to quietly work at my desk by. As I write, I have the gentle movement of water to help me concentrate. I spend a grand total of 10 minutes a month looking after this. The irrigation I run off my phone, sensors in the soil send me notifications of any issues and the supplementary lighting helps those little greens that need the extra boost. That’s the little secret; technology is already facilitating my dream of a jungle city.
Yes you could ask ‘What’s a gardener doing playing with cables and wi-fi?’ ‘Isn’t that the antithesis of your back to nature cause?’ Well no. I find it excitingly close to nature. Curiously enough the internet is all an emulation of a common natural process. Just look at the mushroom family; there are fungal networks that will let trees know if miles across the forest a tree is dying and it needs to worry about a spreading sickness. Hyperspeed Mycelial Broadband indeed, hilariously known on the stand-up botany circuit as the ‘wood wide web’. (How do they do it exactly? Not even Sir David has been able to explain it in his mellifluous detail. And if the Pillar of Attenborough doesn’t know – then we’re all just like the mushrooms themselves, in the dark.)
So look at that, our most incredible triumph and nature beat us to it.
Perhaps because us mortals are just enhancers. Agriculture is enhancement.
Our seed-carrying ancestor did something unnatural; they used what facility they had to enhance the pattern of growth in their favour. Now in this newly unnatural revolution we have ourselves a great many more facilities and we’re certain to use them for enhancement. The real question is: how we do we want to be enhanced? Do we want robot-farms taking over our countrysides distributing nameless faceless foods? Or do we want to see our food grow in front of us? Touch and feel what we’re eating at our offices, on our commute, in our bars? in our homes? Built into the architecture and fabric of cities, enhancing our everyday life? It’s all a matter of preference. ‘Ooh Brog Ya’ if you like but that iceberg is coming and the possibilities are huge!
ISSUE 7: WINTER ISSUE
FRIENDS, FOOD AND DECORATION
Friends, food and decoration- It sounds like a checklist of pre-Christmas arrangements. Friends, Food and decoration- or it could be the main ingredients to a good party (for great parties add 1 cup or more of preferred chilled sauce and music to taste). Friends… food and decoration, here is a list of the three different ways to see plants… probably not what you expected.
Plants as food or decoration is easy to grasp. We welcome them into our lives to adorn and glorify home and garden or we cultivate them for their tasty riches. Plants as friends is a little more foreign perhaps but there’s something different about choosing a plant from a nursery that elevates it above picking out some nice wallpaper. You’ve spotted them across the way and you’ve got a good feeling in your belly, already you’ve decided they’re fun and exciting but as you get a little closer you need to ask some deeper questions. Are you needy? Will you fail me? Can I trust you not to be rotten? Will you still be around in six months? Are you worth my time? ‘Yes’? ‘Let’s make this happen’. The process is akin to making friends. You have to ask ‘Are we going to get on?’ Of course it seems a bit like one-sided communication, but only at first. Plants play the long game and will tell you in time if you’re a good friend (if your friends are droopy, there’s work to be done; if you’re friends are growing and blossoming, you’re doing good). And in return they’ll help you breath.
Treat your plants like friends and you’ll get on better. The reverse is also true. Treat your friends like plants and you’ll get on better.
Odd advice, sure, but in this day and age keeping good friends is tricky business and sometimes it takes a bit of imaginative pairing from the green Kingdom to help you manage those expectations.
The roses, these guys you always look forward to seeing in the summer and you know you’ll definitely catch them at every wedding you go to. But don’t expect to see them in winter no matter how many times you say ‘we must meet up for a drink’.
Is this person good with your privacy, great at keeping secrets? But their personalities maybe a little thorny? Then they’re probably a Hawthorn; make sure you keep them around you but on the periphery- like a hedge.
The ephemerals, the short lived fascinators- they have super cool names like Charlock and Horsetail and they’ll sweep you away with their unexpected presence. On a night out, only just met and best friends forever; they even get you dancing on the table- how great is this! You don’t even like dancing! Your friends look a little jealous but who needs them now you’ve got Horsetail! Then it all goes south, Horsetail starts a fight with a bouncer, throws up in the taxi and leaves you and your real mates to pay the fare. Five years on and your real mates still blame you, that brief fascination has polluted your name so much so that you think you’ll never be rid of goddamn Horsetail. These guys are weeds.
Then there’s the trees, the old friends. These guys are undramatic but always solid, forming deep-rooted friendships. They’ve been there for you forever, even while you get distracted by seasonal flights of colour. They shade you when things get hot and you run to them when the storm picks up but they never really seem to change. They’re rarely the most exciting friend, but they know every garden game you played as a child and that’s a source of comfort. You don’t spend too long thinking about them but if they ever got sick you’d be devastated and if they were gone, you wouldn’t know what to do with that giant shaped hole.
There are of course infinite friendships to be had, maybe more than there are plants to match them with. One things for sure though, both plants and friends appreciate good care, no matter how much of a challenge it sometimes seems. You look after them and they’ll look after you.
ISSUE EIGHT: SPRING SEASON
LEARNING FROM THE BEST
Salvia officinalis, known for it’s deep peppery aroma, is best grown in a sunny spot and in well-drained soils. It’s bee and butterfly friendly and a great deterrent for many unwanted garden pests. It’s culinary uses find it well-paired with fatty meats, most commonly the humble pork sausage; though it is equally excellent shredded with fresh gnocchi. Take advantage of new scientific findings that suggest it’s effects on cognitive function are comparable to caffeine. In short, an amazing plant. Come and find me if you want more sage advice.
Personally, I crave advice and these days when it flies about in the form of ‘lifehacks’ and well worded but shallow must-read feeds (“List of 40:, number 23 will blow your mind” sort of thing), I’d just really like it distilled through the channel of a trusted mentor. In folklore, everyone has a mentor: Frodo has Gandalf, Harry has Dumbledore, Katniss has Haymitch and Kim has Paris. They seem kind of essential. As a fresh-faced plantsman on a quest to cover our fair* city in gardens and gardeners, I felt I was short of a mentor and in need of someone to pass me the proverbial light saber.
So feeling that, I turned on my computer and went looking.
Given that most clever folk in agriculture are obsessed with pesticides, intensive yields and the past, I knew I wanted someone that spoke to those lesser values, things like: community, good health and good times. I had hoped these keywords would narrow my search, but they didn’t. (I’m not the first person to point out there’s a lot of guff on the internet). Heeding my vacant stare as a sign of failure, I started closing the tabs of my browser, when an advert popped up in another window. It was such a brilliant one I actually had a bit of respect for their impudence and knew right away they had all the credentials of a great mentor – so I immediately arranged to meet them. As luck would have it, they were available later that day and I was fortunate enough to visit their place of work, where I was of course completely awestruck! (They’re very successful at what they do). I’ll deviate here and tell you that they have impeccable taste too, every single item there felt carefully designed yet effortlessly placed, no line was out and everything fitted together perfectly. This kind of spatial harmony says a great deal; I already felt like I was in the presence of a master. Infinitely detailed and incredibly simple. I wanted to learn everything from them. I sat with them for some time and did just that. To try and share the depth of learning here would do them and you an injustice, suffice to say that they do seem to have the answers to literally everything from how to choose a colour scheme to how to gain that all-important competitive advantage. I’m stoked, above all else they have the answers to my questions on what plants in the city can do for community, good times and good health.
The only unanswered question I left with was ‘Am I a good student?’ They didn’t make any judgement on that, though I know I’m welcome back whenever I want. I also know that the advice isn’t only reserved for me, they’ll give it to anyone, anywhere at anytime. Even at the same time… Ok so no, they can’t be a man, nor even a woman (though more likely); they are, as you may have guessed, the birds and the bees and the wind in the trees – all of nature’s funky forms themselves. Their advert in my window had been a purple magnolia bud caught in the Spring sun, always a sure sign that it’s time to get the boots on and go out for an inspiring woodland walk. So that’s my mentor. Sure, I sound disappointingly new-age right now, and sure there are a whole heap of real mentors I’ve had that I owe a lot to but you know the best thing about this mentor’s advice? Well. It’s free.