Mid-life gardening… fertile futility

 
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By Christian Nielsen

You cut, trim, mulch, fertilise, spray, dig, weed, rake and tidy up for half your weekend. The other half you keep looking at what still needs doing as the futility of mid-life gardening grows deep within.

1 July 2011

I just want to sit in the garden on a reclining chair, smell the flowers, watch the kids play, and maybe drink a beer without feeling any guilt.

Guilt that the lawn needs cutting – again! Guilt that the hedge is getting unruly and it’s only a matter of time before the neighbour collars me about it. Guilt that the spring bulbs have come and gone, and stuff needs mulching.

Guilt that I’m 42 years old and only mildly successful at most things I take up; from new languages to guitar-playing and cardio-fitness programmes. The garden is just one more thing in which I’ll only have half-knowledge, half-interest, and no doubt half-arsed results. Is this the mid-life crisis I’ve been promised?

If so, then the next question is, do I get a BMW or Honda motorbike? And if so, can I get matching leather outfits and helmets for my wife and I?

I put this suggestion to her a couple of weeks back, and the answer was a firm ‘no’. ‘No’ to the matching outfits, and an even bigger ‘no’ to the motorbike.

So if big engines on two wheels are out, then how else can I express myself, purging my adolescent pangs and pains while building up my flaccid 40-plus ego? I guess a mistress or a fling would do the job – it’s text book, right?

So, I asked my wife what she thought about that option. And she said ‘no’ to that too. I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was a big ask. But she is very sympathetic to my needs. Ever the supporting partner, she did offer a good reason for not allowing a fling … that it would just make me feel more guilty. Good point.

So, back to the guilt. I remember watching my brothers-in-law who are now exiting their 40s and marvelled at their inability to sit down when everyone else was chilling out. They’d be brushing dogs, high-pressure cleaning BBQs and, yes, mowing and trimming lawns with ever-more-impressive tools.

I thought, why can’t they just sit and relax?  And now I know. It’s ownership, it’s fatherhood, it’s decades of marriage, it’s mid-life (or should that be half-life?) … it’s gardening. No matter what you do, the garden keeps growing and you just have to tender it, with the hope that one day you’ll be able to enjoy it for what it is rather than what it should be.
It’s a form of fertile futility… you nurture it despite yourself. You’ve started this thing – you took up guitar, you had (lovely) kids and yearned for a house in a leafy suburb.

It’s Saturday today and hasn’t stopped raining all day. I can’t mow the lawn and the pile of cuttings will be too wet to move. Small mercies. But it’s mid-Summer in Europe right now, so the sun will come out again, and that means one thing … how the garden grows!

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Flower power in Gaza

 
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By Khaled Diab

The Dutch have employed some novel flower power to persuade Israel to relax its embargo on Gaza. Now it’s time to end the blockade.

February 2009

Valentine’s Day – that festival of naff consumerism and kitsch infatuation – is not an occasion close to our heart. Love is a year-round ethereal pursuit and efforts to box it in on a particular day or package it in the form of cards, chocolates and flowers does not appeal.

But this year, I’m feeling a little more charitable towards old Saint Valentine after he made a foray into the Middle East. While Gazans, living amid the rubble of the recent Israeli invasion, are unlikely to be celebrating Valentine’s this year, the festival could mark a small step towards breaking the siege under which they live.

Literally, in a display of flower power in action, the Dutch government persuaded Israel to loosen its blockade of Gaza and let through a shipment of Valentine’s carnations destined for the Netherlands – the first exports from Gaza in a year.

The Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen decided that the best way his country could start to mend fences was to say it with flowers. “The Netherlands would like to help the Palestinians pick up the pieces and give them a chance for a better future through Israeli-Palestinian economic co-operation,” he said.

It may surprise many to learn that the Netherlands, the world’s foremost flower trader, is importing carnations from Gaza, where more things seem to go boom than bloom. However, prior to the Israeli embargo, Gaza had a blossoming flower industry.

With its mild coastal climate and well-drained soil, the Gaza Strip is ideal for commercial flower cultivation. As a reflection of this, there are more than a hundred small flowers farms across the Gaza Strip, and they employ some 7,000 farm workers. But Israel has barred even this harmless cash earner – a wilting wreath on the tombstone of the Gazan economy.

“Shame on Israel. But shame on the Palestinian Authority, too… And shame on the European Union, because they have done nothing either. Why are they standing back in silence and allowing this to happen to us. Tell me – what is the security risk in exporting flowers?” asked one despondent farmer last year.

The Gaza Flower Growers’ Association estimates that the Strip used to export some 40 million flowers a year – other estimates are as much as double that. “We had to feed the flowers to the animals because we couldn’t export them,” said Mohammed Khalil, the association’s head. “We are afraid of losing our reputation in Europe and are afraid to plan ahead.”

While the 25,000 flowers that have been let through are hardly going to make much of a difference to the desperate situation in Gaza – which is grappling with mass unemployment, severe food shortages and a $2 billion tab for the recent destruction – the gesture does carry a symbolic value which highlights, somewhat poetically, the human tragedy Israel’s longstanding blockade has triggered.

Now it’s time for Israel to realise that showing a little bit of love for Valentine’s is not enough; it, and the international community, must break the stranglehold on Gaza and end the embargo. Likewise, Egypt must open its borders crossing, too.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free section on 14 February 2009. Read the related discussion.

This is an archive piece that was migrated to this website from Diabolic Digest

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