The Gardener's Diary
8 September 2003
January 14. Growers of champion Onions sow their seeds early in January in gentle heat. On the onion bed outdoors deep-digging should be done now, and the soil then allowed to settle. Onions like a firm bed.
January 30. On mild days new hedges should be planted. Take out a trench 2 ft. wide and 1 ft. deep, break up the subsoil, and work in any decayed vegetable matter available. Then fill in the topsoil.
From here on my wicker chair it seems incredible that just short decades ago this garden was a dust-bowl, a sterile desert. The gardener has done magnificent work -- and it seems strange to use that term for the old scientist who is equally at home with his hydroponics and gene-fixing as with fertilisers and a trowel. But gardener he is, as wind-beaten and toughened by the outdoors as any there was in hundreds of years past.
There's both beauty and utility here. I'd love to tell you about the ornamental lakes, the groves of conifers, the fields of corn, the elegant topiary which in this gravity - only a twentieth of Earth-standard - is far more delicate than anything you'll have seen, cathedralesque stature combined with fractal detail, cut by the robots to encode in its patterns an ever-growing representation of every aspect of our long journey -- I'd love to talk about these, but what I really love - what makes my heart sing - are the hedgerows, the hedgerows.
I spend hours walking them. The gentle sounds of the flutter of millions of leaves in the wind, their regimented lines and square shoulders concealing a heart of two dozen intertwined plants: thorns and shrubs, occasionally flowers, a tangle of twigs where a bird has made his nest. The soft down on new growth, the dense brush of old growth supporting firm, upstanding sides. The smell: old and new, smokey yet verdant, and life, so much life.
March 12. All sorts of plants grow in rock gardens, thriving in sunny warm spots, dry ravines, damp gullies, and many other variations of temperature and soil conditions. The stone used can be that most easily obtainable in the locality.
Oh we have no shortage of rubble here! Tufa and oolite, sandstone and chalk. That's one of the advantages of living on an asteroid. That's one of the disadvantages too, hence the gardener.
It's a long trip. I was conceived in London, on Earth, I'm told, but we'd begun this trip by the time I was born. My earliest memories are of before we'd built the domes so every trip between habitats was outside and required a spacesuit. Those were happy years -- hard work for the adults and a playground for me. I learned a little of everything, every cousin and every aunt was happy to pretend they didn't notice me standing behind them, watching what they did. And despite the dangers, we took precautions and they were lossless years too.
The journey will continue long after I die. We've been going eighty years and we'll go eighty more, and eighty after that until we converge with any of the others who've made it to the stars. But of the hundred we started with, the hundred to propagate our little community, there's only me left, so there won't be anyone to arrive.
May 30. There is a nasty little pest with gnaws its way into the bulb on onions. It is the offspring of the onion fly, which sometimes flits about among the young onions at this season. Mix a little creosote with some sand or some dry soil, and sprinkle it between the onion rows. The same treatment will keep the carrot fly away from that crop.
To enter the garden, walk down ten steps. At each step, feel your relaxation double. At the bottom, cross the springy turf or lie for a while in the heather. The gate to your left leads to the vegetable garden, which has now completely supplanted the laboratory and was the first to be established. Ahead is the ornamental garden, smaller but touchingly precise, designed by my father and still maintained by his scripts, and to the right are the lakes and rockeries, the most recent additions.
The garden has gone from strength to strength. The dusty surface of our home wouldn't support any plantlife initially, but biochemistry has helped the gardener grow topsoil over the years, and fertilised the land. Each spring there are more flowers, tastier fruits, lusher bushes and grasses.
As the fortunes of the garden have grown, however, the luck of my family has fallen first, then plummetted. Accidents, death, an unidentified disease that killed ten of us, including both my brothers. Disappearances outside in the still mostly unexplored and treacherous potholes of this planetoid, and equipment failures. Our rate of attrition has risen in recent years, children coughing up blood in class and dead by the morning, a drowning.
And now I know why.
August 29. A few pockets of bulbs in the rock garden are an innovation which adds greatly to its charm. The hoop petticoat narcissus, snowdrops, scillas, and crocus are perhaps the most delightful subjects for the purpose.
I was reading the topiary. Our whole history is told in one way or another in the patterns along which the plants are encouraged to grow. Every piece of data gathered by the ubiquitous and tiny robots written, in some way, into the shape of the cuts. It's a pleasant way to spend a day, with a notepad and a computer terminal, reading back from the twists and iterating patterns of the branches the way our home navigated around a patch of gravel in space, or the power drain when we manufactured the polymers for the great central dome.
I'd written a small program to sequence the chromosomes of the plants and play the video stored in the base pairs of the junk DNA -- the topiary goes down that far. I found footage of the gardener, recorded by the robots, holding my nephew underwater, the boy we'd believed drowned in a terrible accident.
I scanned back to the beginning.
To start with, it was occasional. A disappearance on a trip outside the dome had supplied the gardener enough biological matter to fertilise the garden for a long time. But the garden grew, and he wanted more material, more bodies. So more deaths. My cousins, my brothers, my parents: killed, composted, then somewhere under the hedges, the flowerbeds, the soil that produces the food on my table, buried where thirsty roots could reach them.
I confronted the gardener. Confronted him and in my rage, killed him, the smell of blood mingled with the sweet smell of loam.
December 24. The following combinations make good hedges: Thorn with Hornbeam, Thorn with Beech, Hornbeam alone, Beech alone, Thorn alone, Thorn with Holly, Holly alone, Myrobalum plum alone, and Myrobalum plum with Thorn.
And now, here I sit. My family around me, and when the wind blows I hear in the rustle of branches, their voices on the breeze. I see their faces in the whorles of the bark, and instead of my beloved hedgerows I see trenches of corpses. In this green beauty is death. My garden is a grave for everyone I've ever loved.
Tomorrow, I shall burn it.
nb. Extracts of The Gardener's Year above are taken from The Complete Illustrated Home Book, Associated Newspapers Limited.