We are experiencing a particularly lovely summer in the UK at the moment, which means that many people participate in outdoor activities.
The older I get, the less enthused I am by the outdoor life. The sheer joy of selling our trailer tent earlier this year was only tempered by the disappointment of not being able to set fire to it and dance around its melting carcass in the light of the flickering flames.
Which brings me to the hobby of gardening. I know lots of people love gardening, but, for the life of me, I really can’t see why. What’s more, the older I get, the greater the number of people who are interested in it. They talk about plants together. Sometimes, a gardener tries to engage me in conversation about gardening.
“I don’t garden,” I explain to them. Most of the time, they back away and look for somebody else to talk chard with. Occasionally, they continue to tell me how they’ve planted seedlings and expect a good stock of tomatoes/lettuce/celery. I nod and feign interest before backing away slowly myself.
I remember my dad, a couple of years after he retired; we went to the pub together. He’d always had the same opinion of gardening as me.He had a resigned look in his eyes. He shook his head, looking sadly into his pint of bitter.
“D’yer know what? I’ve started gardening and going to the garden centre. That’s how fucking bored I am.”
He was very productive, however, giving most of it away (see vegetables, below). So, on to a few tips:
“Weeding is so therapeutic,” I heard one deluded lady gardener say once. I was made to weed the garden when I was a small boy. All I can remember is sunstroke, a very tired body, scratched, dirty fingers and an inability to sleep due to the discomfort.
Rural Spaceman’s Gardening Tip: Don’t weed. Tarmac. Or hire a gardener.
Yes, gardeners get lots of fresh vegetables, but usually all at the same time. I do not want to eat a dozen cos lettuces of varying sizes in two days. Or not eat any lettuces at all, since all sorts of wildlife are more than happy to eat it before it is picked (cropped? Harvested?)
This all happens after the gardener has spent months outside in all weathers, putting the plants into pots, then in big areas of mud , covered with nets and protected by various insect repellent materials either organic or not. Too much water, it dies. Too little water, it dies. Then there’s the blight and other diseases.
Rural Spaceman’s Gardening Tip: Go to a greengrocer. Buy what you like whenever you like.
I think this means setting out your garden to follow a certain style. There are town gardens, country gardens, Japanese gardens and probably lots of other gardens. I think ours is called a country garden, because it has a lot in it.
Melody Lane, the bare chested gardener, has worked in our garden for several years and finds the freedom of going topless necessary for her connection with nature. The other staff, especially Benfield the butler and Parslow the groundskeeper, fall over themselves to help her out whenever they can.
“Are you going to take some of these old plants out?” I asked her one day. Melody , crouching in the undergrowth, suddenly straightened up and glared at me. She put her hands on her hips , her nipples pointing at me accusingly. I stiffened.
“I think you’ll find this is a country garden border,” she informed me. She tends to converse with Lady Barton St Mary about anything horticultural.
Rural Spaceman’s Gardening Tip: Don’t upset the staff. Especially when they know more about it than you do.
They’re nice. Some of them smell. Others don’t. Most of the ones we bring indoors end up as a brown mush in a vase after a couple of months. We have flowers in our garden, but not the type that Lady Barton St Mary likes from the supermarket with cellophane wrapping and a bow. I could pick some out of the garden for her, but she’d either accuse me of being simple or suspicious of my motives. Melody Lane TBCG would just be angry with me.
Gardeners know the names of flowers. Some of them know the latin names too. Lady Barton St Mary does. It’s like a secret code.
“Oh, Melody, have you planted any diplidocus delicious this year?” she’d ask.
“Of course, next to the smellus floridocus”, Melody would reply, puffing her chest out.
Then there was the time our friend She-La! a singer who had a hit in the 80s with Touch Me (but not there), called around to see Her Ladyship. I opened the door, but She-La! appeared to be distracted.
“Oh hello, I was just admiring your peonies,” she trilled.
I blinked before swallowing hard. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or shocked.
“Your peonies are lovely!” she smiled.
Before I corrected her subject-verb agreement, I realised she was talking about some flowers in the garden.
Rural Spaceman’s Gardening Tip: Buy flowers from a shop. Girls like them. Look out for misleading flower names that could possibly lead to problems or inappropriate knob jokes.
Then there’s the issue of dangerous plants. Last week I had to release our garden furniture, which had been enveloped by the hedge. Normally, I’d have given it a cursory tug before leaving it for another year, but I was feeling brave. The leafy substances I can deal with, but I also had to encounter what can only be described as organic razor wire. I went off to the shed to get a pair of gloves. The organic razor wire still managed to pierce through the gloves, making me howl like a wolf and swear like a trooper, confirming to my neighbours that I am indeed a potty mouthed clot.
Lady Barton St Mary informed me that this would have been something called ‘brambles’. I had another (few) names for it. I believe that some brambles grow black berries that you can eat, as opposed to those brambles that used to grow on council estate greens, producing beautifully shiny black berries. If you were to eat these, whilst hiding from somebody during a game of ‘2468Allevio Knockout’, you’d either go blind, shit yourself or both. I’ve seen many a child on my old council estate stagger from the bushes screaming, hands in front of them, walking like a penguin.
Rural Spaceman’s Gardening Tip: Kill all plants with spikes on, along with biting insects. Don’t eat berries from council estate bushes (Latin name blindycus shityerpants).
To conclude, here are a few examples of things you may or may not find in the garden:
Related to flora umorticus domesticus, or Indoor Zombie Flowers.
Distinct smell: rotting vegetation.
This green stuff is called thyme. Or Rosemary. I’m pretty sure it’s not sage. Sage is a different green, which doesn’t help me, because I’m colour blind. You con convince yourself that it smells like any of the above. Or strawberries, tic tacs, cream soda or Brian Blessed.
It goes with lamb. Or pork. Or summat.
(right) Catnip. Or Mint. I can’t tell. The best way to find out is to pick some and wave it in front of your moggy. If it ignores you, it’s mint. If it humps your arm, it’s Catnip.
I hope you’ve found my guide informative and useful. If you will insist on gardening, just remember one thing. You’re trying to organise nature. You will ultimately be defeated.