The tomatoes, have mostly moved beyond ripe. They hang, insect stung and half rotten, half dried on the vines. A few runty green fruit droop at the centre of the plants. Some of the leaves have completely dried and hover in amongst their wilted brethren like dusty, netting underskirts. It seems like just yesterday the basil next door was juicy and quietly whispering promises of pesto dinners. Now, like a second-placed beauty queen, the taste of the plant reflects its bitterness at being overlooked at the peak of its desirability. The beans have grown thick and spongy – too late for eating as green beans. The ground is littered with the hollow, dry husks of the granadilla harvest. The aubergines, bless them, have thrived in the neglect and the weight of the giant, glossy black fruit are threatening to damage the stems.
In the herb garden the verbena has grown tall and bushy. It’s colonisation of the bed threatens the lemon grass, perennial basil and bay. It only takes a moment to confirm that the curry plant has already succumbed.
Sixty days ago my son – my healthy, sporty, adventurous son – was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Our lives ever since have been played out against a backdrop of hospital wards and, on better days, outpatient chemotherapy clinics. The garden has all but been forgotten as summer fades towards autumn.
Now, on a crisp morning in the last days of summer I come up for air and return, very briefly, to the veggies. Restoring the garden seems gargantuan and I almost flee: back to the anxious boredom of watching my ill son sleep.
“I think some of the tomatoes will be OK if we cook them.” Mum encourages me. Together we head over to the tomatoes armed with collection buckets for both the kitchen and the compost heap. “And these beans will be OK shelled and dried.” I’m slightly annoyed at her insistence. “He’ll be fine for a few minutes.” She adds.
I pull on my gardening gloves.
Later tomatoes simmer on the stove, well on their way to becoming passata. The swollen bellies of the runner beans wait in the counter to yield up makings of leguminous dishes for months to come. One of the aubergines waits, grainy with salt, to be grilled for dinner. Despite my inattention the garden is bountiful.
The gift isn’t only the produce. The gift is the work.
I am back in the garden.