On the opening page of my favourite picture book a rabbit sows carrot seeds, according to the directions on the packet. Then he fills a watering can and empties it, making sure not to flood the soil. With that the day’s work is done. The next day he fills and empties the watering can again. A week passes. Nothing happens, just bare earth. A second week passes. Still no shoots. The rabbit sings songs. He does a dance. Will these carrots, he wonders, ever grow? How can there be no green shoots? Have they drunk enough? Too much? In the story’s closing pages, by which time the rabbit has given up hope, green shoots break the surface of the soil. Thinking he is seeing things, he smiles and laughs. He realises that all the while he was wringing his hands above ground, carrot seeds were quietly germinating beneath it.
Last week I visited a neighbour to see where her gardener had pruned back the blackberries that had wended their way from my garden into hers. I saw, from her side of the fence, where her gardener had cut a hard-won division between her garden and mine. Turning from the fence, I admired her new greenhouse. ‘It’s my husband’s project’, she said, ‘he’s such an avid vegetable grower’. Goodness’, I said, as, on opening the door, I was met by pristine raised beds and rows of self-potting seedlings. ‘This greenhouse’, I added, ‘would do Martha Stewart proud’. My neighbour laughed.
But as the gate clicked behind me, and I took a few steps on the street, I realised that it was admiration rather than amusement that I felt. Out of the unruliness of life my neighbour’s husband had created the thing that he loves, right in the middle of his back garden. Yes, he’d waited until he was approaching retirement, but if anything this had made him more determined. He knew what he wanted and pushed through, past the blackberries of council regulations, to make it happen.
It was the same when I visited Rodney Dunn and Severine Dumanet at the Agrarian Kitchen in the Lachlan Valley. Eight years ago Rodney Dunn gave up editing Australian Gourmet Traveller, not because he had tired of it, because he hadn’t. Yes he’d grown weary of big city life, however what drove him south was the lure of making a new life from a tiny seed, a cooking school with a small farm and a family.
Instead of longing for fresh carrots and eating from the source, Rodney and Severine had set about making this happen. How, I asked him, had he had the confidence to move from an inner city flat to a small holding in the Lachlan Valley? Well, he admitted with a smile, it was a bit of a leap. But then again, he explained, he’d seen plenty of people farming when he was growing up near Griffith. Growing carrots was no mystery to him. And what he didn’t know he found out. Late at night he read every book on gardening and small holdings that he could lay his hands on. He pored over seed catalogues. He planted carrots at the right time. He got support from the right people. He applied for a grant and got it. He asked for help when he needed it. He and his wife worked as a team. They made a few mistakes. But they managed not to panic when something went wrong. They had a clear vision of what they were after and kept at it until they realised it. Just like my neighbour with his greenhouse.
And, once the Agrarian Kitchen was up and running, in the dead of the night when Rodney’s mind gamboled on to new plans and ambitions, he heeded the little voice in his head which told him not to tamper with the good things they already had.
The symbol of all this, for me, was a small greenhouse by their back door. The greenhouse wasn’t particularly lovely. It was functional, even a bit dumpy. However inside tiny seedlings could be seen through the glass, pointing their way up to the light. Vegetables that couldn’t bear the valley’s tumbling nighttime temperatures were quietly edging their way into existence.
Lots of us are hopeful and positive about life. But some of us do things, like planting seeds in self-planting pots, which are expressive of this hope. And we do this without years of agricultural training. Instead we have a good read of the back of the seed packet, chat to a better gardener than themselves, and flick through a gardening book. Then we go outside and plant seeds which, even those of us without a potting shed, have lurking round in a packet somewhere. Half of life, some say, is simply turning up. The other half just might be planting seeds.