Sunday, 8 April 2007

Gardens from Hell

When I was growing up, our garden, or 'yard' as we call it in American English, was a mess of tangled shrubs and trees, all planted in a crazily haphazard fashion. Our lawn had brown patches from lack of watering, and rather boring looking succulents, as my parents tended not to go for plants that needed lots of water and coddling, like roses. I gazed longingly on the gardens of our wealthier and more traditional neighbors: great pristine stretches of manicured turf, neatly laid out beds where weeds dared not show their faces, roses spilling over trellises, and windowboxes with artfully arranged flowers.

Or soil wasn't easy to create beds in, being mostly decomposed granite with many rocks, so my father planted a large cactus garden which quickly took over a large corner of our garden, a pepper tree, the roots of which cracked and buckled our asphalt driveway, and a paper mullberry, which sprouted countless seedlings with amazingly tenacious root systems. We also had a weird hodge-podge of fruit trees: kumquats, lemons, apricots and figs grew in abundance, and we were the only people in the neighborhood with a macadamia nut tree in the front garden.

Both my parents worked hard in our garden, but with full-time jobs, a harder-than- usual gardening situation, and children who had to be bullied and nagged into doing even the smallest gardening chore, our own yard quickly got the better of them.

You've probably heard it said that the process is more important than the product; our garden was a living example of this. Our figs, lemons, and apricots notwithstanding, our dandelions and bull-thorns could have won prizes. And yet I still remember sitting outdoors with my mother in the cool of the evening as she weeded, talking. Afterwards, we sipped iced tea and gazed up at the stars as we sat on the grass. She didn't agonize about the dried up patches in the turf or the obvious health of our dandelions. I know that the weeds, broken up driveway, and runaway cactus garden bothered her, but they didn't manage to ruin her pleasure in the garden. I can still remember walking around the garden with my father as he watered the lawn, listening to his explanations of fig pollination and lemon varieties. Our garden was far from perfect, but my mother and father obviously got great joy from it. I never realized it at the time, but I was learning a valuable lesson. Even if what you've got isn't 100%, it's yours, and you might as well learn to make the best of it. And if you can have fun in the process, so much the better.

My own garden here in the U.K. is in many ways a Scottish version of theirs. I have little gardening sense. I harvest giant rocks, broken pot shards and horse shoes from beds I dug up months earlier and would have sworn were rock-free, plant the wrong things in the wrong places, and tend to have a mess to show for all my efforts. I can't get my kids to do a lick of work half the time, and as I am loath to use pesticides or weedkillers, I don't get the spectacular results of some of my neighbors. Every day I pit myself against moss, dandelions, creeping buttercup, and daisies, but what great exercise it gives me! And besides, I've got apples and red currants too. Who cares if the apples are spotty and the birds get half of the red currants?

It's not perfect, but it's mine, and I'm determined to make the best of it. Out there with my fork and gardening gloves, my dolomite and coffee grounds and egg shells and homemade compost, I feel like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Somehow I think my parents would be proud.


Brian said...

When I gave up on educational bullshit and was able to get amongst the real agricultural stuff at Dondingalong ( despite the Bandy Bandy s ! ) it gave me thirteen years of modified joy. Hard work , but fruitful !
My father came to Australia from England under a farm training scheme , and before he went back to coal mining , he worked as a jackeroo out west and a gardener in Sydney .

His quarter acre block had its vegetable garden
( a necessity in the Depression days ) , and when I acquired my own home I carried on the same tradition and this also followed in our
time at Bathurst. The Wagga residence period saw a change , as there I developed a very
pleasant native Australian garden
The move to Sydney constricted my personal
efforts there ,and the wife took over as head
gardener while I did my thing at Dondingalong , and now in our unit we have patios full of potplants

Two quotes jump to mind -- the absolutely
excruciating verse A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot , with worse lines to follow , but they are magnificently
counterbalanced by Marvell's lines Annihilating all that's made , to a green
thought in a green shade

Happy planting , Mary !

Brian the patterjack

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brian said...

After a slight orgy to celebrate my birthday I have returned to see if this posting will give that same amount of trouble that the first one of the morning did. ( it did but only in part )

After the indulgence however I am not sure of which keys I am hitting ! Smorgasbords and buffets always bring back memories of Le Ranch in Paris -- a memorable family Grand Bouffe


Mary Witzl said...

Hello, Brian.

Yep, gardening is hard work, and 'modified joy' describes the feelings it engenders very well. It would be unadulterated joy if it weren't for weeds, slugs, aphids, etc. I tell myself that challenges make life more fun, but sometimes I think I could use fewer of them.

I am a born-again gardener. My parents either managed to instill a love of gardening in me without my realizing it, or this is a latent tendency. I find it amazingly therapeutic, and a great way to relieve stress caused by my kids -- or writing.

By the way, the first time I heard 'pot plants' referred to, I did a double take. In California, this means something quite different from a plant in a pot. It refers to our number 1 cash crop. . .

Happy Birthday, and I hope it was a good one for you! I got something really useful from my kids this year: a foot massage. Far better than their usual earring holders made of Styrofoam egg cartons, or plasticine figurines.

Kim Ayres said...

I'm curious as to why you have enabled comment moderation - as a relatively new blog, I'd be surprised if you've been getting a lot of nasty comments

Mary Witzl said...

Kim,I'm tempted to lie about this, but the truth is I did it entirely by accident. I was trying to fix it so that I would be notified when someone posted a comment.

God, the embarrassment! Right -- I'll see if I can go and fix that now.

No wonder no one's been commenting...