Gardening is not one of my favourite activities. From Edinburgh to East Lothian, Glasgow to Hertfordshire, and, finally one suspects, from France to Ayrshire, it has been a complicated relationship with the dear, often very dear, green spaces around our abodes. Never has it been dull.
From inheriting one of the biggest buddleias in Britain (our predecessor had worked for a fertiliser manufacturer) to building a garden on a foundation of builders' rubbish and rusty old agricultural implements, we have been through the mill. While admiring tourists photographed the soaring butterfly bush from outside, we laboured within combatting the equally vibrant weed developments enjoying the lusty soil. During the garden build, we salvaged two complete iron hand ploughs that, suitably scrubbed and painted, became homes for low-hanging baskets.
In Hertfordshire, our next door neighbour was a noted naturalist and author. He grew the finest display of nettles in the south. As a result, we enjoyed hordes of butterflies and our children became experts in finding dock leaves to deaden the pain of stings. We never found out how to keep the invading Urtica dioica from our flower beds and fruit. Medically, the plant can reduce blood pressure and hay fever symptoms. As a life-time sneezer, even in darkened rooms, it never worked for me.
The piece de resistance was to build our own swimming pool on a sloping garden in France. Professionals came, meditated, and suggested jaw-dropping sums for a simple installation. We snorted, got planning permission, and proudly became master of works for a self-build. We called in a man with an excavator for the initial hourlong dig. After one minute, he hit rock. Our elegantly sloping garden was a foot of clay atop an old quarry. A passing neighbour, helpfully if belatedly, explained that the foundations for the road to our house had been dug by a team using pneumatic drills.
Three months later, we had a largely above ground pool teetering over a rubble-strewn mini precipice. An infinity pool it was not. A diving pool it was not. The shock wave from a human dive could have moved the end wall in the direction of the only road to the local village unleashing rather more chlorinated water than the locals required. Luckily, due to a perfectly reasonable linguistic misunderstanding with local tradesmen, our pool enjoyed two end walls separated by a trench filled with rubble. A job completed while we were elsewhere over a weekend. This space, intended for an electrically-operated pool cover, became instead a veritable lifesaver, if that is an unexpected description for a swimming pool wall. The double wall meant all would stay in place if one swam, gently.
Now in Ayrshire, we have a terraced back garden where I destroy my wife's plants. In front of our home, there is a large communal space with a central lawn surrounded by shrubs. We have a garden committee who supervise the work executed by a local contractor. Voluntarily, most of our 17 households have gathered of late to prune, tidy, and plant donated shrubs and bushes. In the spring sunshine, it has been a pleasing experience. Then we found a tiny green stalk emerging from the ground. Our local expert named it as a female mare's tail, or Hippuris vulgaris of the family Plantaginaceae. It is a prehistoric plant that strikes terror into any gardener's heart. Invasive, deep rooted and perennial, it can spread and crowd out any competion i.e. normal plants. It must be noted that the wee Hippy when processed also has an impressive range of health benefits such as anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and coagulant. Lacking the equipment available at GlaxoSmithKline, we are investing in a special herbicide that the supplier promises is bee-friendly.
It was another reminder that gardening is never dull. To quote Richard Briers and misquote John Keats: 'A garden is a thing of beauty... and a job forever'.
The wee swamp is mopped and scoured: sparkling again, ready to face and embrace a new dawn. Another one. Rose petals are scattered tastefully around the parapet, to counter the scent of madness in the air, heralding mischief from elsewhere. Ears primed for the skirl of the pipes as the people's reps gather for the march on Westminster – where, with no irony intended, the just-about-managing pro-union tenant of No.10 prepares for demotion to become the Prime Minister of England. The direction of travel for the reps, fuelled by hopes of consensus, is for the moment unmapped and lacking a welcome party at journey's end.
A moment's pause to rescue the rose petals, harried hither and yon by the ever-present east coast wind. Greater rescue missions than this may be needed, if the realisation takes hold that the promises and pledges are not quite as advertised.
We may now greet the dawn with flowers and cheers. We may yet weep for Caledonia. But not yet. Time to coorie down in the wee swamp, knowing that it all could have been a lot worse.
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