Friday 22 November 2019

Kevin Myers: For generations, my clan slayed seedlings with a Herodian zeal

Pottering about in the garden can have mixed results
Pottering about in the garden can have mixed results

Kevin Myers

IT was quite by accident that I became a farmer. I had decided to move to the country, but not actually to become of it: I wanted to see fields, not mind them.

But when we finally found the place we wanted, it happened to come with a few acres, sufficient in area for the old Congested Districts Board to have defined me as a "smallholder".

So, I naturally took to reading Tuesday's farming supplement with a quite rustic avidity, being now much preoccupied with matters pastoral and arable. Haggardly, I followed maize prices in Kansas, and grew melancholy at the prospects for beet. I learnt to pronounce ewe as yeo, and would pale at the fell concatenation of the words, "winter barley" and "early frost". As to agrarian unrest, I was unsure what position to take: as a landowner, should I defend the rights of property against these brutish Land League upstarts? Or, as an impoverished member of the agricultural classes, should I be out at night, hocking cattle and shooting land-agents with my homemade blunderbuss? Throughout the Celtic Tiger, this was a hypothetical question. But with that forlorn and sodden moggy now dead in a gutter, who knows?

Country life has also brought us dogs, the most intelligent of them all being a German Shepherd-Husky cross, Misty. (I can write this without causing too much canine offence, because the others can barely read). She has eyes of bewitchingly different colours: one is amber, and one is silver-blue. She often watches me, musing wryly.

Long pre-dating my career as a farmer was my annual exercise in plant-husbandry. Each February in Dublin, I would buy seeds: love-lies-bleeding, hollyhock, snapdragon, night-scented stock, lupin. My inside window-sills would become little flower-beds, while delicate seeds were put in the airing cupboard, where their slumbering genes would soon be misled into believing they were in Spain, and it was time to germinate.

Meanwhile, I would fantasise about my gardens soon rioting with colour, while heavily-laden honey bees lumbered from blossom to blossom, dripping with nectar and cumbrous with pollen.

With spring, the first growths would break through the window-sill plantations. Why, I could almost hear work-songs, as if tiny negroes were toiling amid the green shoots of my horticultural paradise. I would water the emerging buds, rubbing their little eyes at the bright and benign world they had entered. The seedlings would sprout miniscule leaves: the delicate parasol-skeleton of the lupin, or the cheerful moonface of the hollyhock.

Then, inevitably, would come the day when I would walk to my window sills, and find every single seedling dead, merely because for a few measly hours I had neglected to water them. Hand smites forehead: lord love a duck! What about the stuff in the bloody airing cupboard! I'd race there, only to discover the wizened corpses of those seedlings in a little Gobi of compost-dust.

And so each summer following, I'd sheepishly return to the garden centre and spend a fortune on mature flowers, which I would plant and pretend were all mine own work.

This, I should tell you, is a hallowed family tradition, performed by us Myerses for generations, since the first of us -- Egbert o' the Mire -- landed in Ireland during Good King Hal's Coleraine Plantation. It's what we do. Fathers and forefathers, et cetera. Orangemen march. We Myerses cultivate and then slay seedlings with a (sub-consciously) Herodian zeal.

But this year, as flaming June arrived in April, I managed to focus (quite prodigiously, I might add) on the task of watering my emerging seedlings; not merely did they grow, but they flourished. Great green shoots rose from the plant-pots like lizard-tongues. Never have I seen such a crop: and it was all mine! The other day, I carefully planted my huge harvest of plantlings in the outdoor flower beds. Finally: my very own horticultural triumph stood in the offing (as we sailors say).

The sky being clear-blue, with a slight wind coming from a cloudless and azure south, I next set out to hand-spray the vast army of docks which have this year erupted in my fields. This is a filthy, time-consuming business, only enlivened by the presence on the leaves of legions of an enchanting golden little beetle, which, enchanting or not, I fully intended to make homeless.

Barely had I finished my hours of this loathsome chemical toil than the wind suddenly shifted from the north, and dark clouds raced in, before screaming to a halt overhead. They promptly unleashed a sinisterly-accurate, weedkiller-removing downpour on to my dock-crop. Meanwhile, the wee beetles cheered with a distasteful entomological triumphalism that is all too common in this post-DDT era. Brokenly, I tottered homeward, only to find that Misty had, one by one, dug up my entire crop of carefully-planted seedlings. Where there had been voluptuously-prepared flower-beds, there now lay Flanders Fields.

Moreover, the price of wool is falling. Milk quotas are down. Potato blight is back. The moon is rising, Captain Farrell, and my pike is in the thatch. It's time to get all agrarian ... ..

Irish Independent

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