Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Planting for Posterity

This biography of J.S.Haldane I’m writing keeps turning up pleasant incidental facts. Planning their new home Cherwell in Oxford (now the home of Wolfson College) it was built around three splendid walnut trees. In 1919 they gave a spectacular crop. Three years later they were all gone. It seems as soon as a walnut tree’s roots reach the aquifer, the tree dies. ‘If you want to plant for posterity,’ the Haldanes were advised, ‘don’t choose walnuts.’
Yet these walnuts were 250 years old. Won’t that do for posterity?
Here in the French Pyrenees, we keep doing our bit, chucking the fruits of different trees around the countryside, planting into what is known as the ‘garrigue’, the Mediterranean vegetation of low-lying shrubs and such fragrant plants as sage, thyme and lavender. This year’s main distribution has been from the strawberry tree, beautiful small round bright red fruits. We tasted them for the first time this year. They’re sweet. But composed largely of seeds. Their true delight comes with the visit of a spectacular butterfly, the two-tailed pasha.
I’ve been breaking up the writing with some intense gardening of a communal patch neighbouring our house, digging up the roots and tubers of a rapacious vine. Central to my subsequent landscape design was a neat shrub from the ‘garrigue’, beautifully established. Yesterday a neighbour called down from the property above. He had done me a favour and cut down that specimen. It didn’t belong in a garden. Hey ho. Gardens have to adapt to local sensibilities, it seems. No use planting for posterity if nobody wants it.
I’m winding up this stay now. The roses are pruned back, bulbs planted for the spring, when I’ll deal with the weeds that have invaded. It’s been a strenuous and productive writing time. Today I scaled back the pace a little, reading through some of my research notes for the biography. I’ve tended to read up each section before launching myself into its writing, rather than try and retain the whole book in detail. As I sat in the mountain sunshine, a lizard wandered across the pages on the wall in front of me.
I know it’s a good idea to leave here and return to a new base in London. I tell the neighbourhood dog that as we set out on walks together. I could just do with this spell of wondrous weather to pause a little, drape some clouds over the mountains, and create a scowling sky, so I’m less reluctant to leave.


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