As Man’s Ingratitude

Having cut along every conceivable dotted line on my body in the pursuit of the autumnal pruning regime: sticking plasters over every jolting puncture wound and binding each twingeing muscle in the aftermath of preparing the garden greenery for winter, the time has now come to pack and store away the various wood and metal gewgaws that litter my small square of England’s green and pleasant sward during the summer months.  I have alerted the relevant emergency authorities,  Elastoplast have gone on to twenty-four hour shifts in preparation and my wife is laying in a darkened room with a dampened cloth over her eyes.  Wrapped within sufficient thermal insulation to keep a dormouse snugly at the South Pole, I will venture out into the garden where the garden bench that has spent the entire summer gently divesting itself of various arms, legs and backrests will stoically resist all attempts at disassembly.  Muttered oaths and whispered threats will, on past evidence, prove wholly ineffective and the subsequent search for the axe will serve merely to unearth approximately sixteen new strains of fungi in the garden shed.  Global Warming and the consequent threat of flooding the streets of York precludes the possibility of burning it, so the bench will be left to complete the decomposition at which it has heretofore excelled.

Metal benches, chairs and tables are not, unfortunately, quite so accommodating.  They require careful deconstruction in order that they can be carefully packed away through the winter months allowing for easier disposal of the rusted remains in the spring.  The liberal application of WD40 to the nuts and bolts should allow easy removal.  Should, but does not.  The separate elements remain fused as one by a layer of binding oxidisation and the oily layer from the spray merely accentuates the fact that the spanner I have for the job just doesn’t quite fit.  It is imperial, whilst the bolts are metric.  Or the other way around.  I have no idea how you can tell.  One way or another I have removed more knuckles than I have fingers – that total not necessarily being the number I started with – and (if you will forgive me) completely rounded my nuts.  I would hacksaw them off, but the hacksaw is still conjoined to the garden bin where I left it last year.  I have an electric jigsaw that would effortlessly cut through them, if only it had not cut through its own cable with similar ease the last time I used it.  I will return to this particular problem once I have found my big hammer.

Having already removed most of the mirrors that are dotted around the garden I must now remove the shards that remain fixed – either too tightly or too loosely, I am never sure – to the walls.  I approach the problem forearmed with such a variety of Pozidrive, Phillips, SupaScrew and Flat Head screwdrivers that Wickes – should they be able to see them through the various layers of paint they have been used to stir – would probably throw in the towel.  Unfortunately, whatever screws I have used quite clearly require a completely different model.  My attempt at removal with a claw hammer, although unsuccessful at loosening the screw, does remove the mirror and the lower third of a finger that, truth be told, I use very rarely anyway.  I am relieved to find that the two mirrors I affixed to the fence are no longer my responsibility as they currently lay, still secured to the larch lap panels, in next door’s pond.

My previous attempt at mending the ailing garden gate ensures that no burglar can now enter our premises from that direction.  Unfortunately, as I appear to have fixed the new hinges to the latching side, it also means that I cannot put the bins out.  In order to facilitate the necessary revamp I conducted a careful search for my hammer which was subsequently found propping up the sagging rear corner of the shed.  Having carefully removed it, replacing it with a brick that, until that moment was blocking the bigger of two mouse holes, I set about trying to get the handle back in it.  What I needed was a hammer, but…  Having used the brick instead I was thrilled to find that the shed lurched no more than forty five degrees without it.  I will reset the clothes pole as soon as I have found some means of opening the shed door to get at the spade.  Having spent the entire evening reattaching the wobbling hammerhead to the hammerstick-thing with gaffer tape, I intend to tackle the ‘gate conundrum’ tomorrow.  Should I move the latch to the hinge side or vice versa?  If I leave the hinges where they are, I will have to move the little hook that holds the whole thing, when it is capable of being opened, back against the garage wall.  Without it, I recall, the gate does nothing but flail itself to death.  I am tired of hammering the gate post back into the wall.

The final pre-winter garden task is to move all pots, tubs and planters under cover for the duration.  The cover, in this instance, is the greenhouse.  It is also partial.  Such broken panes as do not have black plastic bin liners sellotaped over them have been replaced with variously assembled pieces of hardboard, cardboard and, in the door, a piece of mirror that gives me a terrible fright each time I open it.  None-the-less the greenhouse is a wonderful refuge for all the bulbs and rhizomes that, having survived and wilted through the summer, need somewhere to go and quietly die.  The smell of the greenhouse in Spring speaks volumes about the fragility of life.  The crackling sound under my feet speaks volumes about the fragility of glass.

And so, like the rest of nature, the garden is prepared for the travails of winter.  For months ahead there will be no tinkling of water-feature, no twinkling of solar lights and no inkling of why everything else, including the lawn, has turned to brown sludge.  Come the Spring, after a dark eternity, new green shoots will appear everywhere I don’t want them to and every plant that I treasure will snap when I go near it.  As soon as the clocks go forward, I will retrieve a large bag of six inch nails from the back of the garage and see if I can get another year out of the garden bench…

Blow, blow thou winter wind.  Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude – William Shakespeare

Packing Away the Garden for Winter

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The time has come to pack away the final few autumnal gew-gaws from the garden in preparation for the onslaught of winter. They have to go from the garden, the problem is where to put them all now. The shed is already filled with more chewables than any over-wintering rodent clan could possibly masticate and the greenhouse has every single inch of ground space occupied, despite which the weeds will thrive through the dark cold days ahead and, by next year, will have entwined themselves, like a macramé straightjacket, around everything within. Never mind, we’ll get in what we can. There is always space to be found. I am king of the teeter. The rest will go in the garage – as soon as I’ve emptied that into the loft.

Job 1. Remove all garden mirrors from walls and fences and store securely in the shed, from where I can sweep up all the broken glass in the Spring. Place all associated fittings in a plastic bag from which I can extract a single rusted nugget in April.

Job 2. Disassemble garden table. Remove motley selection of ill-matching nuts and bolts and place in a different plastic bag which will disappear before the table needs re-assembling – much like last year’s. Place in greenhouse to over-winter, protected from frost and snow – or would be, if I didn’t smash glass getting it in. Tape bin liner over gap and make note to buy new pane – probably after breaking another pane getting table out next year. Lose note.

Job 3. Cover garden tap with swanky non-fitting garden tap cover. Ponder whether the tap or the cover is non-standard size. Hacksaw piece out of cover and slot the rest in place over tap. Pick off floor and throw in bin. Wrap tap in old towel – again.

Job 4. Wind loose hose back onto reel. Stand up bird bath and disengage hose from its base. Make note to repair hole in fence where bird bath fell. Lose note. Find strange, insect eaten note from last year in pocket reminding me to repair gate. As back gate has since fallen down and smashed wife’s favourite planter, make note to burn gate in fire pit. Just as soon as I’ve hidden broken pot.

Job 5. Commence search for fire pit. I know we had one last year. I remember putting the dead shrubbery in it.

Job 6. Remove pump from water-feature that replaced pond. Pond was deep enough to prevent pump from freezing, water-feature, apparently, is not. Can listen to tinkle of water only during summer months. Never mind, can listen to tinkle of mirrors and greenhouse in the meantime.

Job 7. Remove cat crap from lawn. (You’re quite right, should have been job 1.) Remove cat crap from shoes, kitchen floor and stair carpet. Will turn cat inside out if I ever manage to catch it. Spend several hours trying to work out whether there is a way to divert the 240 volts going spare from the pump into the crapping cat.

Job 8. Having removed excrement, it is time to give lawn its winter trim. Gather up all dismembered sods and pile them behind the shed, where they will turn green for the first time in twenty years. With any luck, the moles will decide to emerge through the bare patches so that I don’t have to fill the holes in Spring.

Job 9. Pack away lawn mower for winter. Store in an easily accessible space, facilitating speedy disposal of seized-up wreck next year.

Job 10. Check fence for rotted and/or missing panels and nail sections of broken conti-board over them. Make note to advise next door that 5½ inches of each 6 inch nail is protruding through their side of fence. Lose note. Possibly with Insurance renewal.

Job 11. Search garden for slugs and snails, but find none. Garden like gastropod nirvana in summer. Every area of concrete shines like a mirror. Everything green stripped to skeletal remains in seconds. Where do they go in the winter? St. Tropez? Looking around the shredded devastation of my flower beds, they should be very fat wherever they currently are. Understand that some slugs have a cannibalistic tendency. Half expect to see a single six foot slug behind the shed. Make note never to approach compost bin after dark unless carrying salt and a big stick.

Job 12. Clean last winter’s cruddy remains from bird table. Discover last year’s hammer and possibly nails, now looking like something dredged up from mediaeval swamp. Discover note from last year about parlous state of bird table foot. Raise bird table to examine base. Bird table roof falls on head. Make note to burn bird table if ever discover whereabouts of fire pit. Nail note to side of bird table. Head flies off hammer and decapitates garden gnome. Place gnomic remains in hole with shards of planter and bury as deeply as handle-less spade allows.

Make note to self to write witty and entertaining blog about my day. Lose note…

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.  A.A. Milne

Gardening – a brief guide (part three – the rot-ables and the rustables).

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In addition to plants, bushes, stones, ants and cat-poo, the garden is also home to some slightly more ‘architectural’ features. In the final part of our little guide, we will take a look at things, other than your bedding plants, which do not grow…

Barbecue – What’s not to love about a summer barbecue? (Answers on a postcard please.) Metal or brick, charcoal or gas? Matters none: by next spring everything that is metal (including tongs, fish slices and those long, pointy forky things that you never quite got round to washing last year) will be rusted. Everything that is not rusted will be coated in a thick layer of congealed fat, soot and gristle. Last year’s charred leftover sausage and burgers will remain welded to the grill as not even the rats will eat them. If you really must eat charred meat and lukewarm potato salad, always do it in someone else’s garden – preferably with the St John’s Ambulance in attendance.

Bonfire – The only reason most men will ever willingly venture out into the garden. Everybody loves a good burn-up. It is advisable not to light a garden bonfire when neighbours have windows open or washing out. Burn at night: it will be seen for miles and every male in the neighbourhood will appear with something wooden to burn and a bottle of something warming to drink. Safety is paramount: always wear thick, flameproof gauntlets, a protective visor and non-flammable leggings – or don’t. Position the fire away from sheds, fences, trees and children. Always check beneath the fire for hedgehogs – preferably before lighting. Never start a bonfire with petrol – I don’t know why. In my experience, bonfires generally take about two hours to light and two weeks to extinguish.

Compost heap – In these days of ecological consciousness it is imperative that a garden has a compost heap on which to put vegetable peelings, dead plants and grass cuttings. It should be situated in an area behind the shed, preferably closer to your neighbour’s house than your own. The vegetable matter within the heap will decompose and form an evil-smelling brown slime that both looks and smells like nothing you have ever bought from a garden centre. Cover it with thick plastic sheeting and try to ignore the flies. Leave undisturbed until the neighbours complain – then move.

Fences and hedges – A useful method of promoting conversation between neighbours – often very loudly. The main thing to remember about fences is that they are never in the right place. When they fall over, they are always yours. Hedges, on the other hand, are unlikely to fall over, but their roots are much more likely to undermine next-door’s conservatory and block the drains of the entire neighbourhood.

Garden furniture – Plastic, wood or metal. In Spring and Summer, garden furniture will turn your garden into an open-air lounge/dining room. In winter it will turn it into a ‘how do we get all this lot down to the dump?’ conundrum.

Garden ornaments – Statues, birdbaths, sundials, unidentifiable chunks of rock – when installing a heavy garden ornament, rigorous preparation of the ground is essential to ensure that the ornament does not lean grotesquely and fall. Garden ornaments always lean grotesquely and fall eventually unless propped up with old spades and broom handles. Do not worry, it doesn’t matter. The sundial will, in any case, be orientated in such a way that it only gives an accurate time for Saigon. After fixing it in place, you will find that it is in permanent shade anyway. The birdbath will be full of something green and stagnant that not even thirsty birds will touch. Despite what the salesman may have told you, a large chunk of ugly rock will always be a large chunk of ugly rock, wherever you put it.

Greenhouse – Basically a see-through shed. During the summer the greenhouse will contain mildewed tomatoes, withered cucumbers and brown, slimy lettuces. During the winter it will contain all the rubbish that won’t fit in the shed. Greenhouses are the ideal environment in which to grow fruit and veg varieties that are not hardy enough for our fickle climate. In the greenhouse they will remain protected from frost and wind and will die within minutes if not watered continually. Three things you must always remember about the greenhouse:

1. It is not a house
2. It is seldom, if ever, green
3. It is glass. It will break in excessive heat; heavy rain; lying snow, and the presence of children.

It is possible to replace glass with polycarbonate panels which do not break. They do however turn a strange opaque yellow on being exposed to sunlight, shrink and fall out. In my experience, the average greenhouse will usually comprise a haphazard combination of glass, polycarbonate and black plastic bin-bags. It will be filled with dead plants, but will be better next year.

Shed – A dry, generally wooden, store in which to protect your gardening tools and to raise the local mouse population. The smell, when you open the door, is probably a putrefying toad. The content, by volume, of the average garden shed is generally far greater than the volume of the shed itself. (If you don’t believe me, just empty one out and then try to get it all back in.) A correctly maintained shed is much like Dr Who’s Tardis – except that where the Tardis contains an almost infinite variety of rooms, interconnected through a veritable labyrinth of dark-cornered corridors and secret passageways, the shed contains shit. Also the Tardis doesn’t leak. A shed, like its close cousins the loft and the cupboard-under-the-stairs, has an almost unrivalled capacity for the accumulation of ‘stuff’ for which you have no further use. The shed differs from a greenhouse in that things do grow in it. They should not be touched without thick rubber gloves and should be burned when the wind is blowing towards somebody else’s house. Remember that all electric equipment stored in the shed over winter will blow up the fuse board and melt the fillings in your teeth next spring.

Tools – Most gardening tools (hand or electric) secateurs, hedge-clippers, spades, forks, lawnmowers, negligently placed rakes – have the potential to remove chunks from the unwary user. Keep them as blunt as possible. Broken/rusted garden tools should never be thrown away nor, if possible, replaced. When anything electrical gives up the ghost, cut off the flex and store it in the back of the shed. Everyone does it. No-one knows why.