Let’s start with a basic, inalienable truth—I am no gardener. For proof, look no further than the green spaces over which TLC and I have control. The main bulk of our long, slender garden is in my wife’s tender care. It is a lush, endlessly variant display, embracing accident and the joyful understanding of plants being plants and growing where they will. There is a sense of order, but also spontaneity.
About two-thirds down, we reach the area I call Copse End in my rare charitable moments, but more often Hell’s Half Acre. The end of our garden is backed onto by a stand of trees bordering the local school. Home to all sorts of wildlife, but also brambles, ivy, nettles and bindweed. To keep it under control requires tenacity and the understanding that plants are plants and once a week down there just ain’t gonna cut it.
Readership, Hell’s Half Acre is my responsibility. It is and has always been an abject failure. To be honest, that end of the garden has been a struggle from day one. When we bought the house it was home to a bunch of concrete raised beds, a slumping shed and a skeletal greenhouse. I tried growing veg down there for a while, but the work needed to keep things shipshape proved to be beyond my limited talents and incredibly limited patience. I love gardens. I find gardening to be dull, hard work with no lasting sense of gratification. If I paint a wall, I know I won’t need to do it again for several years. If I do some weeding, I’ll have to do it again next week. Ugh.
The thing is, Copse End is the sunny bit of the garden. In summer you can bask in sunshine down there until 8 in the evening. It seems like a waste to let it devolve into chaos. So we pulled out all the beds, laid lawn, put up a summerhouse. It was lovely down there for a while. But Copse End does not wish to be tamed. At least, not by someone with my limited sense of purpose.
We have now decided to ‘rewild’ Copse End to an extent, embracing the wildlife and making it something of a meadow garden. We planted apple trees, let the grass grow. It still looks like shit, don’t get me wrong. But for now, at least, we’re a bit more relaxed about it. Who knows, if the finances allow we may have to go full suburbanite and get a gardener in to keep things at a low rumble. Gods know, I’ve had enough.
We’ve therefore staged a tactical retreat. The veg growing operation has moved to the top end of the garden. Potatoes in bags. A veg trug for beetroot, carrots and garlic. Pots of chili and cucumbers. A big herb planter keeping us well supplied in mint and parsley. We even snagged some tomato plants from a neighbour. Having this activity close to the house erases the excuse that it’s too hard to get out and do a little watering, or keep an eye on how things are growing. Everything is two steps from the front door. Much easier. I’m actually starting to feel more in control.
Sensing my increased confidence, TLC set me an honest-to-god gardening project. I retasked an old pallet into an upright planter. Honestly, a very simple job. Take your pallet, paint it (we had fashionable black, but use what you like) and flip it on edge so what would be the bottom is facing out with the slats horizontal.
Get hold of some weed-suppressant membrane, and measure to four times the height of each trough. Double it over, and staple firmly to create the base into which your plants will go. This may take longer than expected if your stapler, like mine, won’t fit into the gap properly.
Then the fun and easy bit. Pick your plants, add a layer of dirt to the bottom of each trough, fill as you see fit and add more compost to cover the gaps. See? So easy even a fucknuckled dolt like me can do it!
Meanwhile, we’ve also been adding green to the inside of the house. TLC has garnered an interest in house plants. When she gets a notion in motion, I find it’s best to step back and let it happen. Subsequently, a procession of plant deliveries has rolled through the front door. And you know what, I’m enjoying the new additions to the family a lot. TLC’s eye is always excellent, and she knows I like succulents and cacti. So we have some of each. Cheeky little lads and lasses, with distinct personalities. She declared the Chinese Money Plant was called Polly (something to do with the plant’s taxonomic name) while I christened the trio of pals on the front room table Snake-locks, Catlick and Spiny Joe.
I may have been on furlough too long.
However, there really is something about a house plant. They seem to generate an aura of calm and peace. It’s difficult to be angry around an aloe. Much apart from the benefit of oxygenating plants in the house, they do make us both smile. They ask very little, and give a great deal. Millie the cat could learn something from them.
And yes, we do talk to the plants. I mean it would be impolite not to wish them good morning, right? No harm in a little gentle conversation.
Let’s return to the simple truth with which we began. I am no gardener. I still feel like a dunce before TLC’s knowledge, vision and enthusiasm. I seem to spend a lot of my time in mortal combat with stinging bastards that want to do me harm. But it’s exercise and fresh air and I can always reward myself with a beer at the end of a day’s hard slog down Copse End.
I am no gardener. But I’m trying to get there.