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In praise (and memory) of Elspeth Thompson

May 12, 2010

Lots of people have commented that we’ve taken on a very daunting project with our house and garden purchase. The more people say it, the more I believe it. And the more I believe it, the greater the obstacle grows (along with the weeds that George had manfully cleared away in the garden and which have now reappeared).

I was meandering around the internet in search of nothing in particular (probably plugging the odd gardening search term into google), when I came across Elspeth Thompson’s website. Sitting sadly on the homepage of her site was the note her husband had posted telling readers that Elspeth had died, and at only 48 years old. Recognising her name but knowing nothing about her, I started clicking around and discovered she’d written a weekly gardening column entitled ‘The Urban Gardener’ for the Daily Telegraph for many years. These columns were collated into a book by the same name and I decided to track down a copy.

 

The book arrived in good time for some pregnancy-enforced feet-up-and-reading-time. And the book gripped me pre-pregnancy and now post-birth. In fact it was the only book I took with me into hospital, and I even read a couple of Elspeth’s entries while I waited rather nervously to be called to the operating theatre for my caesarean section. Nothing like reading about success with shrubs before major surgery.  

In the introduction to the book Elspeth says her dream had been to have a large garden in the country, but presented with 20 feet square of solid concrete (and an allotment nearish-ish by) she’d come to feel utterly content with her urban oasis. She writes, ‘Somehow, flowers look even more beautiful against a backdrop of grey: a balcony spilling over with red pelargoniums in a grim council estate; billowing white cherry blossom above a street of parked cars. There is something almost heroic about daffodils pushing up through tarmac…’ Hear, hear. For George and I, we hope our little garden will be just that oasis Elspeth writes of, and her book gives us encouraging snippets of advice, amusing anecdotes and lots of encouragement when nature and the British weather aren’t quite as cooperative as we’d like them to be. And in doing all of that, Elspeth makes the horticultural task we face a little less daunting.

But one of my favourite lines in the book is her observation that as more and more city folk pick up their spades and forks, ‘For the first time in history, compost making is deemed an acceptable topic of conversation at a London dinner party.’  

And on that note, having given birth 3 and a bit weeks ago, and with absolutely no intention of re-entering the dinner party world just yet, I think I can justify sloping off for a lie down now and enjoy another of Elspeth’s inspirational columns…

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