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

ash blaze bonfire burn
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.