Belfast Telegraph

Weed 'em and reap... my secret garden fetish revealed

By Mike Gilson

Thirty years ago if I'd said I knew the difference between a geranium and a clematis I'd have been drummed out of the Joy Division Miserablist Club (JDMC) which met at the student union every lunchtime to stare meaningfully out of rain-streaked windows.

But there I've gone and done it. I really do know the difference. And what's more I can walk through a garden spotting at least 60% of the flora there. I don't know when it happened. Like a Virginia Creeper on a wall (see what I did there?) it just sort of grew on me.

As you get older you slowly and reluctantly abandon the pursuits of your youth.

At gigs you're more likely nodding at the back than elbows out in the mosh pit. That would be so wrong on so many levels. So while a visit to the High Street or even the supermarket is pure drudgery I have to confess the prospect of the garden centre entices middle-aged me.

It's not quite what they mean by the rock and roll spirit I know but a rockery festooned with alpine plants in an outdoor display can excite me almost as much these days. I'm no expert though. I buy stupidly and in quantity lured by colours and smells without a thought of where the damn things might go or even if they have a chance in the chalky soil of home.

Grasses are my thing too. I think the gentle swish of long grass in the breeze probably one of the most soothing sounds ever. Certainly more so than the buzz of mowers operated by the lawn fascists massacring those lovely swaying verdant blades.

Now my patio is festooned with Quaking Grass, Sweet Vernal, Meadow Cat's Tail and a host of others all gently whispering: Calm down Mike The Man can't get you here. Some would call them weeds, I call them beautiful.

I think it was the aforementioned Man who turned me on to gardens.

We all need places to escape him. The omnipresent authority that runs our lives, keeps us running around in circles, forever anxious about the future.

Music festivals and horse race meetings are, for me, temporary places of asylum but flora and fauna is increasingly helping to keep Him at bay. I'm not quite ready for National Trust membership (or the obligatory car sticker that goes with it) but I love old mansions with formal gardens.

I spend hours wandering around the hedges, rose gardens and duckweed-filled moats imagining Capability Brown waving his arms about as he imposes more formality on the landscape on behalf of another 18th Century pot bellied Lord of the Manor. You wouldn't find his work on this island though. He refused to come here until he'd "finished" England.

In recent times I've started to fantasise about escaping The Man completely by getting a job as a gardener at one of these places even though I would be the least qualified employee since Steve McClaren got the England job. Imagine having to spend all day simply clipping the topiary in the sun dappled garden amid the ripened apples fallen from the trees.

All you'd have to do is ensure that the yew lion's mane is even. Sheer callus-inducing bliss. I even enquired once only to discover they mainly want volunteers or pay you in all-you-can-carry-cuttings. Trouble is The Man insists the mortgage must be paid and another dream dies.

For now I'm just glad I'm unburdened from carrying this terrible secret garden fetish. I expect the letter from the JDMC rescinding my membership any day now.

Mike Gilson is editor of the Belfast Telegraph

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