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The Non-Gardener’s Gardening Conundrum

2017.09.24

I have a garden but not a gardener’s mentality.

It’s not that I won’t do any gardening it’s that when I do something I want it to stay done – or at least be done for a reasonable period.

I spent a lot of time out there this summer. I gathered all the blackcurrants and took in the gooseberries. I weeded dandelions out of the lawn many times. I cut the grass four times and bagged it all up. I raked the lawn to “scarify” it (apparently this pulls up the moss that grows below the grass and eats up a lot of the nutrients in the soil).

I finally relented and bought a strimmer just to cut the grass on the small mound at one edge of my garden. I don’t know what the mound is for but the lawnmower won’t go up it. Maddeningly the grass on that bit grows significantly faster than the rest of the garden, so it makes the garden look scruffy all too soon.

When it didn’t rain much (most of June and July) I watered the plants daily, using water from the water butt that collects rain from my roof. When that ran out I used the water left over from washing the dishes. I chucked tea leaves and coffee grinds around the garden daily (they are good for the soil and it also reduces rubbish).

The big “story” of the year is that my plum tree bore more fruit than it has in the previous three years put together. I wondered if it was ailing but this year it was a decent crop of around seventy plums. The wasps bore holes in the ripe plums and sit in there, so I had to be careful picking them. By contrast it was a less productive year for the apple tree – thank goodness. (It’s hard to deal with 200 apples.) Still, I had to go out daily and gather up the fallen apples before they rot on the ground. Fallen fruit attracts slugs and snails in incredible numbers.

In any case, the slug population has to be controlled or they will multiply and destroy the garden. I won’t put down slug pellets because hedgehogs eat the slugs and the poison then kills those wonderful creatures. It’s said that the best other way to deal with slugs is to dig a small hole, put a jar in there and add a bit of beer. The slugs will crawl in to get the beer and drown (happily). I tried it one year and, apart from hating to give away beer, found it not that effective. At most it would kill three slugs a night. So I made my own “organic” way to kill slugs and snails. I go out at night with a torch and a broom handle and bash them in.

That may sound cruel but death is instantaneous and it’s sort of honest: I am not distancing myself from slug murder by putting out pellets. It also has the merit that the birds can come and scoff the slugs in the early morning. I performed this slaughter about ten times this summer, getting between ten and thirty on each occasion. (By the way, did you know slugs are cannibalistic?)

So, at least from my point of view, I did a lot for the garden over these months. And yet my garden is a total mess. I was away in London for two weeks and when I came back the lawn was overgrown as if I had never cut it. We have long days of summer daylight in August and it also rained a lot; perfect conditions for growth but a perfect nuisance to me. I keep waiting for the lawn to dry to cut it but it rains a bit every day to keep it permanently damp. The weeds are everywhere and a patch of clover is spreading relentlessly.

The blackcurrant bush badly needs pruning. It grows out sideways across the narrowest point in the garden. The honeysuckle bush is expanding similarly in a different spot, growing out over the place where I planted hollyhocks. Hollyhocks normally grow straight, upwards and upwards; mine grew straight out at a sharp angle to reach the sunlight from under the honeysuckle.

The apple tree is so dense with branches and leaves that this is surely one reason why there were fewer apples this year. The sun couldn’t reach the budding apples to encourage them. The plum tree needs a saw taken to it. Its outermost branches grow madly upwards and outwards as if trying to become independent of the main tree.

There’s a maddeningly resilient monster bush that I have tried to kill on numerous occasions but keeps coming back. Three years ago I nearly broke my back digging it out by its roots. Somehow it survives and puts up vigorous shoots across a wide range. In this area I planted and nurtured a rhubarb bush but that has finally died. I think the unwanted bush sucked all the nutrients from the soil.

All this, I should add, is in a small garden. I live in the town where few people have much space. It ought to be manageable. I know “village” people with gardens three or more times the size.

When I look out my window I feel a sort of despair. So much effort spent and so much more to do. And yet a real gardener relishes the time spent in the garden and sees the tasks ahead as a challenge to be enjoyed. I hate that I have to keep doing more and more and that it’s never “done”; for a gardener that’s the joy of it.

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コリン・ジョイス Colin Joyce
コリン・ジョイス
Colin Joyce

1970年、ロンドン東部のロムフォード生まれ。オックスフォード大学で古代史と近代史を専攻。92年来日し、高校の英語教師、『ニューズウィーク日本版』記者、英紙『デイリーテレグラフ』東京特派員を経て、フリージャーナリストに。07年に渡米し、10年帰国。著書に『「ニッポン社会」入門』、『「アメリカ社会」入門』、『「イギリス社会」入門』、『驚きの英国史』など。最新刊は、『新「ニッポン社会」入門〜英国人、日本で再び発見する』(小社刊)。