A while ago I visited an old colleague. Before I left he invited me into his garden. The patio area was swept and clean, the grass was mown and all the plants well tended. In a brick planter he had some garlic growing, their stalks reaching up to the sky in regular rows. Would that I could keep my few unruly pots so tidy! He pulled a bulb from the earth for me, carefully winding a plastic bag around it so that I wouldn’t get soil in my car.
It sat in my fridge for a few weeks. When I finally took it out, still mosaiced with earth, one of the cloves – streaked magenta under the clinging scabs of soil – had pushed out a pale green sprout and the stalks were yellow green, crinkled and crisp. I was reluctant to break it not just because of my fondness for the giver but because of its richness and the character and life that seemed to burst from it. I decided to plant the cloves and grow my own neat (unruly) rows of garlic. But first I drew it, its earthy fecundity and tangled stalkiness putting its anaemic, clipped supermarket cousins to shame.
I thought of him while I sketched. We had planned a coffee with him, another colleague and myself, and as I drew the garlic clove, I thought of telling him about my new, tiny, neat (unruly) garden in waiting. I would organise it soon, that coffee. Maybe tomorrow…
But tomorrow never came. Only days later the news arrived and I knew that whoever would be easing the remaining bulbs of garlic from their earthy bed, it would not be him. And the garden remains in waiting. Rest well Nigel. You were more precious than I knew.