Monday, 4 April 2011

Back to gardening

The human mind is a wonderful thing, but its powers are not always benign. Gardening has been a great love of mine for as long as I remember. As a small child I planted, weeded and watered and then felt great excitement as the seeds I spread a month or two earlier produced flowers. Of course a month or two is a very long time when you are little, the long wait could disappoint and discourage some but for me the thrill of the finished product was well worth the wait. In my early adult years gardening was off the agenda because I had no garden and was too busy establishing my own grown-up roots. Once I was settled there were regular trips down to the FatBigot ancestral estate (a small three-bed semi in a Sussex village) to take up gardening duties as the parental generation became less able to cope.

It was on moving into FatBigot Towers nearly twenty years ago that I had my own garden for the first time. The previous owners had cultivated bindweed, brambles and elders to a standard that could have earned fellowships of the Royal Horticultural Society, so my first task was to clear out all the crud. On doing so it became apparent that the wall along the north boundary was utterly decrepit, an appearance that was enhanced by a large chunk of it falling as soon as it was touched. It makes the garden seem much larger than it is to say that the wall along one side required more than three thousand bricks to be laid and the use of more sand than you can shake a trowel at (together with a little cement and a vast quantity of hydrated lime). Now the fruit of my modest bricklaying skills is still standing and has weathered beautifully.

For more than a decade I mowed, sowed and hoed at every opportunity even building myself a greenhouse and creating three compost heaps - one for stuff currently rotting, one for stuff rotted and awaiting use and one for leaves. Then I suffered a cardiac unfortunance after a weekend of hard graft thinning the hedge around the front garden and shredding the detritus so that it would compost down at double quick time. And that is where the human mind came into play in my gardening. Saturday - panting and sweating while cutting the hedge; Sunday - panting and sweating while shredding the trimmings and incorporating them into the compost heap; Monday - heart attack. My poor brain linked vigorous gardening activity with intense physical pain.

Since then I have ventured into the garden a couple of times and done a little general trimming to prevent it becoming a jungle and this time last year I had a good go at the hedge again, albeit at a slower pace than before and less extensively than the previous thinning (which was somewhat overdue). Only now has my mind allowed me to tackle the back garden thoroughly. It was my intention to do so last year but on starting I realised it was causing me more worry than it should. Six years is a long time in the life of a garden so I knew there would be a lot of remedial work required before there was any chance of restoring it to its former glory (which wasn't, in all honesty, particularly glorious).

Last week I ran into someone I know who used to work at a Turkish restaurant very close to FatBigot Towers, he said he had just finished working at one place and was due to start a new job next week. The offer of a bit of cash turned him into a gardener for a few days, tackling the toughest parts of the clean-up job and generally clearing the site ready for more intricate preparatory work to be done. Many years ago the great Geoff Hamilton explained that once you get your garden soil into good condition it will remain good for a long time and will need very little additional work each year compared to the work involved in its initial preparation. How true that is, my old flower and veg areas still have light crumbly soil despite years of neglect. It allows the weeds to thrive but also makes it easier to remove them.

I am not planning to be very ambitious. In the flower beds I will clear perrenial weeds, add as much compost and conditioner as I can, preserve the best of the perennials, prune and feed roses and then just sow mixed cottage garden annuals to get two or three months of colour. The veg patch will have spuds, lots of spuds, and a wigwam of runners (always Scarlet Emperor for me). No doubt bindweed and dandelions will pop up in far greater quantities than I would like. Oh well, there's no escaping the old enemy when you have given them free rein for so long. The lawn will get a spring weed and feed treatment and then regular cutting.

The last three days, in which my Turkish assistant worked magnificently hard, have left me with a manageable project. Now my mind is working differently. It is dredging up memories from years ago about how to start a new garden and is reminding me of just how enjoyable and satisfying the exercise was first time round.


Anonymous said...

Interesting read, I'm a keen Gardener and had a heart attack last August, the two most definitely are not linked.
My complete lack of interest in eating healthily and a very stressful environment led to my incident.
Within 24hrs I had a stent fitted by the NHS (unbeatable) and now garden, walk and live better than ever. I'm fitter but more importantly wiser now, I don't shovel garbage down my neck, manage stress and realise that gardening is very very important to keep me healthy and indeed sane.

Woman on a Raft said...

My relative has got well ahead this year and was showing me his pots and seedlings yesterday. He's using one of those polythene wardrobes to start the plants off. I'm amazed how much he has got out of barley 1/4 of a small garden.

He argued the vegetables like cuddling the house and are happiest snuggled up against the walls, growing in those temporary containers. It takes careful watering as they are inclined to dry out, but at the end of the season when the tubs are spent, he just empties the used compost on to the beds, folds up the bags, and puts them away until February. He can also prepare the tubs in his magic shed, moving them out as soon as he is happy with the weather.

The flower beds themselves don't seem to need much digging now as the worms do most of the work. He just makes sure to pull up any uppity weeds.

For Christmas I bought him one of those electronic cat-deterents which works well. The neighbourhood cats stalk crossly along the top of the fence but don't jump down to scratch on the soft earth. They still get where they are going but they skirt the area with their noses in the air.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Before, during and after photo's required, please.

Barnacle Bill said...

Geoffrey Hamilton, a gardener I could listen to for hours, not a celebrity lightweight like so many who have graced our screens.
Follow his advice and you will have an enjoyable garden.
Have a pleasant time pottering about Mr. FB.

roofing carpenters essex said...

I used to spend my time in the morning on my garden. I find gardening very interesting. In fact I really did care a lot for my garden. When I have nothing to do I spent my time on the garden, cleaning the area, pulling of the grasses and planting various kinds of seeds. You can save money through gardening, you can get your meals on your garden; also you could earn money from it.

anne said...

Gardening has mean so much when it comes to life. It makes the house more refreshing and gardening could help saving you from spending much money. You can plant vegetables in your garden, through that it avoids you to shop vegetables you can get it fresh from the garden.
atlanta gutter repair