Chitra Ramaswamy: Only thyme will tell

I DON’T really do plants. There was an unfortunate incident, let’s call it Bonsaigate, with an extremely tiny tree two years ago that left sap on my hands and stone in my heart. This is coupled with an awareness that where green things grow, spiders lurk.

I have (gingerly, while screaming) moved pots in my time. I know that of which I speak. And as all good arachnophobes will know, there are but two ways to deal with this terrible truth. Grow nothing, and keep within a hundred-mile radius of the world’s rainforests.

And yet. To live in a world of green things with leaves and buds and roots reaching down where we can’t see. To sniff the coconut perfume of gorse while walking up Arthur’s Seat. To covet allotments (and the lives of those who own them, obviously. Why is it they always seem to be happier than the rest of us, wandering around in their linen trousers with their bags full of rhubarb and contentment?). I just can’t resist any of it.

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Also, as the neverending jubilee kept reminding us, we’re a stoical nation (at least that’s what we’re told), and gardening seems to be the right response to double dip recession. Nothing makes us humanoids happier than crouching in the rain, seeking out snails and wrestling with weeds while the knees of our jeans get soggy and our lower backs get sore. We’re a funny bunch, but frankly I’m ready to embrace any side of our feckless species that isn’t hell-bent on destruction, pretending political U-turns are a sign of courage, or making disappointing prequels.

Which brings me to window boxes, otherwise known as the modern gardens of austerity Britain. I’m looking out of my window as I write this and at least a third of the flats on my street have these little city plots. I like what these gardens clinging to buildings represent. They’re like personals ads, written in flowers, directing us towards the broke but hopeful folk living inside. Not smug allotment owners, bonsai bores or those annoying chefs on telly who are forever popping out to their Olympic-sized gardens to pick whatever they can find for that simple summer salad. Only real, nice people have window boxes.

Then again, I would say that. On my own ledges we have lavender keening at the sky, ready to bud. Nasturtiums in a droopy tangle. Dianthus, or ‘pinks’ as Ma Ramaswamy calls them, which according to the picture will look like frilly petticoats when they flower. And in the kitchen window, a box of herbs that wouldn’t make it on to any aspirational cookery programme. A sighing sprig of mint and a few flattened chives that could almost but not quite serve as a combover on a balding pate. Oh, and some dead rosemary. I know; rosemary never dies. Except in my flat.

The best thing about window boxes is that you can garden without leaving the house. Which means no rain, and no bugs. I stick on the radio, lay down newspaper and dig the rosemary out with a tablespoon. The window box looks miserable, like it’s taken the austerity garden metaphor too far. And then I remember how Ma R used to leave cuttings in glasses of water around the house, often for weeks at a time, to see if they would root. Sometimes they did, and then she would plant them. At the back of the fridge, among the tubes of tomato puree and ageing onions, I find a lonesome old sprig of thyme. I prop it in a small glass of water. Now all that’s left to do is wait and see.