Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

It is all trowel and error for the rookie gardener

Frances A. Burscough

Gardening: like playing bingo and listening to Radio 4, this was something I swore I would never do. It’s an old-person’s activity.

Grandmas and grandads do gardening; it’s part of the job description and it goes with the territory, but as far as I was concerned this was a territory I never intended to venture into. Not on my watch, anyway.

Then, two things happened simultaneously like a cosmic conspiracy to force me into a pair of gardening gloves once and for all.

First, my marriage came to an end.

Until that point, the garden was his domain and his responsibility. I was happy enough — and busy enough — to run the house, home, family and all that that entailed.

He, on the other hand, was master of all he surveyed outside, cutting the grass, clipping the hedge, having the occasional sneaky cigarette when no one was looking, even producing the odd tomato or strawberry. Some of which (although admittedly not many) weren’t even infested by bugs.

It was a perfect symbiosis and it lasted as long as my marriage.

But then I split up from Him Outdoors and overnight the garden became my responsibility.

I did think of allowing him full custody of the garden but he moved too far away, so I was stuck with it. Either that or I meet and marry a gardening grandad — and quick — before the weeds grow too high to get out of the door.

Then a second event took place which, combined with the concurring separation, proved to be (quite literally) ground-breaking.

I turned 40.

Now, I have a theory. There is a ‘gardening gene’ in all of us which lies dormant until we turn 40. Then, like a crocus bulb which lies in wait for the optimum conditions before it breeches the hard and frozen ground, it suddenly and inexplicably burst into life.

On the very day that I turned 40, and having never bought a packet of seeds in my life (apart from the ones you sprinkle on Waldorf Salad), I found myself perusing the Sunday supplements, strangely transfixed by the gardening columns and browsing the seasonal sachets on offer.

And then, instead of spending my birthday money on the usual whirlwind trolley-dash round TK Maxx, I found myself in a garden centre, drawn there by some compelling force like Terri Garr to the Mothership landing site in Close Encounters.

Five years later, I now have a vague clue what I’m doing. It’s been an exercise of trial over error, (or should that be trowel and error?) with error coming a very close second.

So, for any of you who are approaching 40 — and your inevitable horticultural blossoming — here are a few of my own tried and tested grass-roots gardening tips:

Green rubber over-shoes are not designed to be worn over platform sandals. Don’t even try. It’s an accident just waiting to happen and A&E will not be sympathetic.

Scared of creepy-crawlies? Get hypnotised or wear a forensic detective white suit, or both. Because they will find you, wherever you are. They will creep up your ankles and crawl into your hair and bite you where the sun don’t shine.

Fly spray does not work outside. Too much fresh air. Swearing at them doesn’t work either, no matter how offensive the expletive.

Never decant Tomorite or BabyBio into a glass container and place in the kitchen cupboard. It looks exactly like Worcester Sauce and tastes foul in Bloody Marys. Just trust me on this.

If you have dogs, do not use bone marrow fertilizer on your new plants. It will turn your entire garden into an all-you can eat canine buffet jamboree.

Label all your seedlings clearly. Otherwise you will end up with parsnip and petunia hanging baskets and an oak tree growing in your window box.

Finally: Don’t try to fight the urge to get down and dirty. It’s a preternatural instinct beyond your control. Just accept and get on with it, remembering to save some ‘me time’ for playing bingo and listening to Radio 4.

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