The Struggle of a Simple Man With a ‘Highly Modern Lawnmower’
The 1,000-square-metre back garden has been left unattended for six months and fills me with horror every time I go out there.
Sadie assures me it has huge potential, but all I see is a huge badly designed and neglected mess that requires professional help to whip back into shape.
My problem is that I grew up in a terraced house with a backyard and alley and I cannot even remember plants or flowers in the house. Plants and flowers were a luxury back then in households like ours and the only bit of greenery and fresh air I remember experiencing was when we went on our annual family holiday to Filey in a caravan for a week.
When Sadie asks for my advice on anything to do with horticultural matters, I look up, shrug my shoulders and inform her you are asking the wrong man.
Suffice to say that I will not be applying for the editor’s role on gardeningworld.com. An experienced journalist I am, a gardener I am not.
The garden in our former home was bad enough and only a third of the size of this one. Plus the fact we lived in a rented property so I was reluctant to spend any of my precious time on it, save for mowing the lawn now and again or a bit of digging and strimming.
I did get on board a bit more at the start of lockdown when we created two vegetable patches, after some persuasion from Sadie, who is much more passionate about plants than I and would happily spend whole days out back, planting, seeding, sowing, growing and mowing.
So, as the owner of this present scrap of unruly land, I have been told by wife that I have to show some enthusiasm, as the area is far too big for one person to maintain.
Sadie, I mean we, have big plans for the garden which include, in no particular order: a summer house; firepit; pergoda; gravelled area; garden beds; arbor, “what’s an arbor,” I enquire? “An arch,” Sadie replies testily — a pond, and an immaculate lawn.
I seize an opportunity to stray not too far out of my comfort zone and be of some use when I offer to “sort out the lawn”.
“Are you sure?” Sadie says, “it’s fairly overgrown, I don’t want you keeling over … we can pay someone to do it, if you like …”
With the inside of the house done for now, and the weather improving, we push outwards, like frontiers folk, while we also wait for planning permission approval on the outbuilding. Reclaiming the garden also makes sense as we can’t have guests, paying or non-paying, walking through a weed-infested jungle when they arrive.
We are on a budget, and besides the previous owner has left behind a petrol lawnmower and a hand scythe in the shed, so I have all I need to tame the overgrown outback. “I maybe some time,” I inform Sadie.
The weeds are almost 60cms high and I worry that the lawnmower will struggle and that I will have to chop them down by hand.
After a couple of tugs at the starter cable, the mower miraculously splutters into life and takes me completely by surprise as it sets off up the lawn while I struggle to wrestle control, like a scene from a Jacques Tati film: ‘The struggle of a simple man with a “highly modern” lawnmower’.
It takes me almost a day to stamp my authority on the lawn and make it look at least fairly respectable, almost killing me in the process — and when I’m done I vow to invest in one of those sitdown contraptions, which looks more fun.
Not only did the weather improve for my ‘lawn day’, but it decided to give us a taste of summer to really test my mettle and was scorchingly hot.
While I toiled with the weeds, Sadie pulled down an old fence and cleared space for the pargoda. The area will need weeding and I suggest nuking the ground with weed-killer, which doesn’t go down well with someone who grew up in alternative, hippy-like communes for half her life.
She is the type of gardener that makes her own fertilizer, out of beer, shampoo and ammonia and other non-threatening ingredients.
During ripping up the old fence she disturbs a nest of mice, which causes her distress — I can only think where are the cats? It’s like Christmas down there for my two feline killer elites, who have yet to come home with any trophies, since moving to France, I may add.
At the end of the garden is a an old stone shed with a hole in the roof. For some reason the previous owner decided to build a huge rockery in front of it without leaving a path to the shed door, which at the moment makes it difficult to get to.
I’m really not sure what to do with the rockery, which I name Burnam Garden, after its creator.
For now the folly is left alone, until I need to access to the shed. That part of the garden has planning permission for a two-storey house, which one day I will build a 3D-Printed Home for Under $4,000 and let technology do the work for me.
Meanwhile, I hack back the bushes and weeds with a medieval scythe, vowing to at least invest in a petrol strimmer, as life is too short, unlike my lawn and hedges.