At long last yesterday I got down to exploring a densely chaotic shelf in an all-purpose cupboard, the kind that starts out as a model of intelligent storage and then gradually fills up with objects of infinite variety and questionable usefulness. The ancient Egyptians believed that life was a constant struggle with the all-engulfing chaos, and I think they were spot on, even though my chaos was infinitely smaller than their cosmic one and could sometimes be – briefly – defeated. The time to start was now.
For starters, beneath a few layers of plastic bags and the instructions for using a long defunct kitchen gadget, I found a smallish gold-coloured metal box which had once contained expensive Belgian chocolates, but now, to my amazement, was full of something less sweet: a batch of unopened seed packets. I could hardly believe my eyes. How did I manage to forget about this lot? And was it too late to sow them now?
Well yes, it was. According to the “Sow by…” instruction on each packet, these seeds were two to four years out of date, victims of the sense of timelessness that overcomes me each time I am confronted with a resistible task, a sense of surely-it-can-wait-another-week. Or more. “Tomorrow never comes”, sang Frank Sinatra, offering a glamorous excuse to procrastinators. What a waste of money and gardening potential, I thought, fingering the pristine seed packets, but then suddenly remembered reading somewhere that wheat found in the tomb of a pharaoh did sprout after being stored in a stone jar for thousands of years. Should I perhaps – but no, get real, lady, that was probably ultra-special pharaonic wheat, and besides mid-October was no time to sow seeds.
I laid out the small envelopes on the kitchen table. Why on earth did I have six lots of radish seeds, four of them of the “French breakfast” variety ? I lived in France for years and never saw any French person eating radishes for breakfast, nor was I ever offered any. Could this be another of those cross-Channel love-hate Franglais misunderstandings which make the French believe that the Brits eat le biftek twice a day? “An old radish which has stood the test of time”, one packet states rather offputtingly, making me realize that I don’t really like radishes of any kind. But then why did I buy all those seeds? No idea.
More to my taste, I find three packs of lettuce seeds, including those of Tom Thumb, the smallest kind, “just right for small families” I read on the pack; does that mean one and a half family member , or a whole family of small stature? Never mind, here come carrot seeds – they like dry, sandy soil and would have done badly in my rich organic humus – and the seeds of chives, spring onions, runner beans, peas, dark purple beetroot and – wait for it – perpetual spinach; what a nightmare for a spinach-hating child, and to hell with Popeye. Finally a touch of romance: I must have been in a lyrical mood when I bought the seeds of Night Scented Stock, delicate white and pink flowers only releasing their sweet perfume when the stars light up. At last something to make up for those prosaic vegetable seeds.
What next? I take the seed packets to the compost bin at the bottom of the garden, open them one by one and pour the contents onto the vegetable chaos inside. From one chaos into another, amen. My volunteer employees, the omnivorous earthworms will recycle the lot. Unless – this thought strikes me several hours later and makes me anxious – what if the seeds decide to disprove their sow-by dates and begin to sprout in the moist, warm paradise of the compost bin? What if they go on growing and thriving, until one day my garden is taken over by huge French radishes, fully intent to stand the test of time?
Let me procrastinate and wait and see. And hope.