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


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

So, What Are They Actually For?

Photo by Pixabay on

We have lived in this house for forty years now and we have always had slugs, but never before in these numbers. They have appeared in a huge variety of black and orange, smooth and scaly, spotted and striped, big and small – and all looking like they have been regurgitated by a gull. Where are they all coming from? Behind us is farm land. It has been fallow for a couple of years, during which time, I suppose it could have become a gastropodal nursery. It is about to have houses built on it. Are the slugs fleeing the scene in numbers which I can only describe as biblical? Well, I’ve looked over the back fence and I can see no evidence of an encroaching slimy tsunami. The carpet of green and leafy weed does not appear to have been ravaged in the same manner as the foliage in our own (formerly) verdant plot. Besides, the builders haven’t arrived yet – is it even possible that slugs have foresight? I am certainly unaware of any eminence they may have in pre-planning circles. I question this perspicacity.

So, if they haven’t migrated here from the soon-to-be building site in anticipation of an imminent eviction, why have they suddenly decided to foregather in such numbers – and why in my garden? Have I, perhaps, introduced a new gastronomic morsel to my garden that is irresistible to the gastropod palate? Have I, perhaps, stumbled upon the slug equivalent of mashed avocado on toast? In short, I think the answer is ‘No’. It is a long-established garden and, save for the pots and baskets, filled almost exclusively with perennials. No new dishes have been added to the menu. There has been no spike in my Michelin rating.

I am certain that climate change is a factor – wet and warm does seem to suit the terrestrial mollusc rather more than it suits its natural predators: the hedgehog and the thrush. Both of these beautiful creatures are increasingly rare visitors to my garden now, and it’s a real shame because boy, could they plump up for winter. I resist the lure of slug pellets, lest they have a second-hand effect upon the slug consumers. In their absence, my efforts at slug control are definitely beginning to flounder.

I was once told to salt slugs, but the effect was so dramatic and so grotesque that I have never been tempted to repeat it. You would need a heart of stone and a cast-iron constitution to tackle the problem in that way. Anyway, the sheer numbers would pose a severe threat to the salt supply for the Highways Department in the winter – not to mention the blood pressure of any hedgehog that might happen to stumble upon the over-seasoned remains. So, a brush and pan is my main means of mass-collection, before bagging and dropping into the bin, from where they can be transported to their new home at the landfill.

I have noticed though, that whilst the slug population has boomed Chez McQueen, the snail population has diminished to a similar degree. Are slugs and snails, perhaps, competing for the same food source and the slugs, unencumbered by heavy household arrangements and therefore more fleet of foot (Foot? I’m not sure, I’ll have to check that out*.) getting there much more quickly than their principal competition? Perhaps I see shadows of our own society. I know that slugs and snails are closely related biologically. What if slugs are, in fact, snails that have not yet managed to get a foot on the housing ladder? That would explain everything. Except that I keep on finding empty snail shells and I keep on leaving them where the slugs foregather and, to my knowledge, not one of them has ever taken up vacant possession. Perhaps, like elsewhere in this world, they have discovered that they’re better off with mum and dad after all…

*Just did. A slug is a gastropod which means ‘stomach foot’. Not sure it’s how I would choose to imbibe my bouillabaisse, but hey, it’s nature…

Making A Hobby Out of ‘How?’


I don’t know if any of you will remember it, but when I was a boy there was a program called ‘How?’. It featured Fred Dinenage, who did daft things; Jack Hargreaves, who did ‘country’ things; Bunty James, who did ‘girl’s’ things (different times, different times) and another man, whose name I cannot remember, who, to my recollection, kept electrocuting himself. Now, why this has come to my mind is that, as the show’s title implied, this show told you how things worked and also how to do things. These things we would, I suppose, class as hobbies and it is hobbies I have been thinking about for the last few days, because people keep telling me I need one. I say ‘I’m fine, I have a hobby’: I’ve got you dear reader, but they tell me you’re not enough, I need something more tangible. Something I can make or (pray excuse me) do.

Now during the course of my ramblings these last few months, I have looked briefly into what I suppose might be described as the most likely of ‘old man’ hobbies: D.I.Y. and gardening, and it’s fair to say that neither of them really hold any appeal for me. What I’m looking for, I think, is something rather more challenging than collecting stuff, but rather less dangerous than climbing rock faces. I do not suppose for one second that my long-held interest in whisky tasting will be allowed to develop into a hobby. I took Art at ‘A’ level (which means, basically, that I know how to draw a bus station and colour it in) so I guess that might be an option. When my mum died, I bought myself paints, brushes, canvas, an easel. They have lain unused ever since. Perhaps I’ll give painting a go. My Art teacher at school always told me that I had a special talent – at least I think that’s what he said.

My problem is that I am, by nature, solitary. I’m ok in a group setting once I’ve got to know everybody, but meeting everybody for the first time is torture. Remembering them for the second time is worse. The only way I could ever join a club would be to go along with somebody who is already in one, so that I could slowly skulk my way into the group consciousness. Once I am part of ‘a team’ I am fine, it’s the introduction phase that scuttles my equilibrium. I have dallied with golf in the past, but I have no talent for it and, anyway, it is far too stressful for me. Other folk, who are far more skilled than I (skill in golf is indicated by lack of dress sense) have a tendency to be both impatient and patronising. I try to make it a rule never to play sports with anybody whom I would like to kick on the shin during the normal course of events.

Despite many pleasant childhood days spent on the riverbank with my father, I have never understood the pull of Angling. I do not see me spending my twilight hours spearing carp through the hard-palate; taking a selfie of myself with them before throwing them back from whence I have just tugged them. Especially when armed with the knowledge that somebody else is going to try to do just the same thing to the poor little buggers the following day and – well, a fish’s memory being what it is – probably succeeding.

Anyway, the point is this: if any of you do remember ‘How?’ and can remember any of the things they did (except the electrocution ones) please let me know. It might be time to give them a go…

The Loneliness of a Mottled Green Lawn Owner

chafers under lawn

We are a green oasis in a land of shingle.

To the front of our house is a small lawn. It is the first thing I see when I open the curtains in the morning. It is, I think, probably essential to my well-being. To the back we have a slightly larger lawn which the grandchildren play on. I do not require either of them to be flat or weed-free. I do not require a predictable bounce for semi-bald tennis ball or an undeviated path for bowl or jack. I do not require them to be in the kind of condition that compels me to place ‘Do not walk on…’ notices all around them. I require them only to be green (probably the least you can ask of a lawn) and slightly softer than concrete for falling on. Now here is where the problems start.

Last year the entire village where we live was hit by chafers. These little grubs live under your lawn, munching on the roots, until they metamorphose into a shiny backed beetle, dig their way out and fly off to mate and eventually infest some other poor bugger’s lawn. Now, the lawn doesn’t like having its roots chopped off at the… well, root and responds by dying. Johnny blackbird, rook and crow are no slouches at spotting the old dead lawn. They recognise that there is likely to be a plethora of sizeable snacks under there, and they start tugging at the turf which, being deficient in the root department, lifts like a carpet. You go to work in the morning with a nice brown lawn and return in the evening to the Somme. Of course there is nothing to see where the birds have lifted the sods – anything that was there has been eaten – although if you listen carefully you can probably hear the gathered ranks of turdus and corvidae quietly belching in the trees. If you are anything like me and your lawn knowledge is not what it ought to be, you can’t quite comprehend what is occurring at first. The birds, naturally, are not present when you are and you can only scratch your head at the cause of the devastation. But then, eventually, you take a hold of one of the last remaining islands of withered poaceae and pull it up yourself and what you see are dozens of white grubs with brown heads and a clump of legs that you hate on sight. Suddenly you experience the kind of intense loathing for a hitherto unknown invertebrate that you have not felt since you found that your prize courgette was chock-full of piggy beetles. You know that you do not have the time to go through the full lawn and pick the little buggers out one by one, so you retreat inside and watch on gleefully as our feathered friends descend upon them en-masse and, when they are sated, you go outside and pull up another bit of benighted sod…

The problem is, there is little else to do. The RHS advised nematode treatment (note the past tense). Nematodes, should you have any desire to know, are microscopic organisms that you water into your lawn. (I should probably advise you to leave the blog here if you are eating a meal.) You then have to keep your lawn really wet because nematodes do not have widdly little legs or any other means of propulsion, they basically swim around in the water between the grains of earth searching for chafers. When they find them they slip straight in through the skin, where they start to multiply. The chafer is not keen on this and, in the fullness of time, he/she (how on earth would you know?) is even less so when it explodes and blasts a few more million nematodes into the sodden soil (I did warn you) who swim off in search of other chafers. The only trouble is, it doesn’t work. At first, everyone said that it did, but then, when it became apparent that it didn’t, they all turned away slightly and, coughing, murmured ‘Me? Never said anything of the kind. Who would ever believe that such a thing could work anyway?’ Unfortunately, by the time I had become aware of the misinformation, I had, content in the ‘knowledge’ that my microscopic assassins were hard at work, lifted my dead lawn and laid new. I could almost hear the massed pupae tucking in their serviettes.

So, the current advice is to keep the lawn well-watered and fed and hope for the best. The birds do not find it so easy to pull up dead wet grass apparently and, having hatched, the beetles are less likely to return to an abode with such a sinking damp problem. My well-watered and fed lawn is currently in a state that I would describe as pre-dead. It is not yet deceased, but I know that it is ready to cough its last at any minute. But I will not give in easily. I do not want to open my curtains to gravel. That would not be good for my soul. So I will continue to water and feed and I will keep my fingers firmly crossed and I will hope that my nematode army is just a slow starter.

And this is where we came in. There is a landscape gardener in our village. He specialises in fences and paths and, just now, he particularly specialises in ripping up lawns and replacing them with gravel. He tells me that he is doing four a week – not bad going in a village – and he has just finished the houses either side of me. In fact, we are one of six houses in a little row and the only one not to have had the lawn removed.

My problem is this: having just decided that I ought to make myself aware of what the mother chafer might look like so that if I ever see her making her way towards my lawn I can advise her of the error of her ways in no uncertain terms, I have discovered that following an infestation, homeowners often find themselves bewildered by the speed and extent of the destruction which may ensue owing to the fact that crows are accompanied to the feast by raccoons and foxes (thank you Wicki) and all I can say is that if I’m going to have a front lawn full of raccoons, I might well move anyway – preferably to somewhere with gravel…

The Initial Laceration is the Innermost


I have been self-harming for forty years now – although I think that most people would probably call it gardening. After a day in the garden I have generally accumulated enough injuries to make me of more use to an aspiring Accident & Emergency doctor than the average full-colour text book. If you want to find an example of any one of the myriad ways in which a buffoon can injure himself in the garden, just look me over, you will find it… somewhere. Today, after a day spent digging and building, in addition to the normal array of bumps and bruises, pulls and twists, aches and pains with which I am afflicted, I have a plaster on the end of my finger. It covers an area where a small chunk of finger used to be – where it actually is now, I have no idea. It is not, in fact, unusual for me to leave parts of me dangling from thorn, spike or metal implement during the course of a day’s gardening. There is barely a plant in my garden that doesn’t have a minute piece of me suspended from it somewhere.

The damage I have suffered is, however, not my point (such as it is). The point of my witter today actually revolves around the plaster. You see, in the past, there would not have been one there. What was the worst that could happen? It would not heal properly; it would become sore; it would ooze a little; I might go septic. I would squeeze it, wash it and it would heal. Not so today. Today it might not heal properly; it might become sore; it might ooze a little; it might be sepsis. I might die. I have grown used to my injuries changing their names. When I drop a brick on my shin, I no longer have a bruise; I have a contusion. When I scrape my elbow along the wall, I no longer have a graze; I have an abrasion. When I pierce myself with any one of the dozens of lethal implements to which my garden shed is home, I do not get stitches; I get sutures. And with each change in name comes an incremental growth in seriousness. One word closer to death.

Hence my little cut, sore and swollen that it is, has been treated to a dose of Tea Tree Oil and is currently encased in a plaster, which means that a) I currently smell like a hospital ward no longer does and b) I cannot pick anything (e.g. a £1 coin) up if it is laying flat on the table. It is irksome. Now, I know what you’re going to say and you’re quite right, I could use the other hand, but you miscalculate my direction of drift (aimless drifting, of course, being my forte). You see, what I’m struggling to understand is how my very minor gardening injury has suddenly become a death-threat and, even worse, how it has made me £1 worse off for as long as my right hand is otherwise engaged.

My wife says that I should wear gardening gloves and, whilst I must concede that a stout gauntlet would probably forestall many of the piercings and slashing to which my mortal flesh is prone, I still would not be able to pick up the coin. Furthermore, over four decades of horticultural flagellation I have grown used to the kind of damage that I can inflict upon myself – even if the names have changed, the harm remains the same – but with gloves, I am faced with a whole new range of possibilities: who knows what manner of glove-related injuries are possible. So, although suggestions are always welcomed and good advice is always taken, on this occasion I will stick with the lacerations I know and I will continue to harm myself in all the old, familiar ways.


‘A scar is what happens when the world is made of flesh’ – Leonard Cohen


Gardening – a brief guide (part two – the creepies and the crawlies).


In the twenty first century, many see gardening as a salve to the stresses and pressures of modern life. Unfortunately, like all ointments, it is host to many flies. In part two of our Bank Holiday Gardening guide we take a look at some of the nasty little beasties that seek to inculcate themselves between you and back-garden pleasure…

Ants: occupy a place at the very apex of social living – a single ant has no value to the colony other than that of an (ultimately dispensable) part of one giant entity that functions as a unitary being and always pops up in the middle of your lawn just the day after you’ve mowed it; once a year spewing out a million winged beasties that infiltrate every nook and cranny in your house before dying in your knicker drawer. In my experience ant nests can spread for several kilometres and the vast majority of ants within them are immortal: they cannot be killed by any means known to man or woman, so don’t drive yourself mad, just put up with them, but don’t sit on them. They hunt in packs. Whilst a single ant nip will cause you little in the way of discomfort, a thousand of the little buggers practising synchronised munching on your scrotum may be slightly more uncomfortable. You will not need to make note of where they nest: they considerately leave huge bare patches in the lawn for your guidance.

Caterpillars: will strip your most treasured garden plants and vegetable crops of all greenery within seconds. They are nothing more than a peripatetic bowel with a mouth at one end and an anus at the other and yet… they turn into beautiful butterflies – which of course lay eggs that turn into more caterpillars. It is an inexcusable sin to deliberately kill a butterfly – try it, even the dog will hate you – so you’ve got to try and get them whilst they’re still eggs. They are microscopic and laid in their thousands – so good luck with that. They hatch in their thousands too and even if you were able to remove them all from your treasured brassicas, what would you do with them, short of employing a flock of genetically engineered tits to feed them to their horribly mutated chicks? Remember, each little leaf-shredder is a potential butterfly. It does not do to be caught popping them. Anyway, by the time you have spotted and removed the advance party, it is too late, the battle is already lost – there will be far too many to drop over next door’s fence. My best advice is to fill your garden with plant varieties that they will not eat: plastic should do.

Earwigs: not exactly certain how much of a problem these shiny-shelled, weaponised little fellows are, but thanks to my grandma, they scare the bejaysus out of me. Do they really crawl into your ear whilst you sleep? Can you really only get them out by offering them apple? Just exactly where do they lay their eggs?

Greenfly: these little buggers suck the very life out of your plants. They appear from nowhere and in their millions; they breed with a rapidity that rabbits can only dream of and they’re farmed by ants! A simple spray of washing-up liquid and water will do for them – I’m not sure how. Perhaps it makes the plants slippy. Also, ladybirds eat greenfly. Encourage ladybirds in any way you can (I don’t know – you’ll have to work that one out for yourself). I understand that native ladybirds are themselves being eaten by marauding hordes of foreign ladybirds, but, since I’ve no idea how to tell them apart, there doesn’t appear to be much I can do about it. They will just have to take their chances and wait for Brexit.

Slugs and Snails: ok, if pushed I would have to say that I dislike slugs more than snails if only because snails are at least a little more aesthetically pleasing: they do not, so much, resemble something that has been eaten and subsequently regurgitated by a liverish barn owl. Snail shells are quite pleasing in the rain – until you step on a full one and the sound leaves you also feeling like a liverish barn owl. Like the caterpillar these little eating tubes (both armoured and slimy) have voracious appetites. They will strip anything green as soon as you turn your back on it. Finding ways to combat slugs and snails is the gardener’s number one preoccupation. Some swear by copper strips to keep them at bay; crushed eggshells; salt; barbed wire; watchtowers; tiny, but heavily armed nematodes. The sole of a sturdy gardening boot works particularly well I find. Simply venturing out into the garden on a damp and drizzly evening and collecting them all in a plastic bag can be remarkably rewarding – especially if you have a bonfire going. It is not considered ecologically sound to poison the little buggers with slug pellets, as this will also poison the hedgehogs and birds that feed upon them – although I would question, ‘where were you before I put the pellets down? If you’d been doing your job properly, I wouldn’t have needed the pellets in the first place…’ French people eat snails, although they call them escargot, so that they don’t retch. Snail’s eggs are also considered a delicacy – although you do have to cut the toast ‘soldiers’ very small indeed…

Wasps: not to be confused with bees which, whilst also capable of delivering a healthy sting, are not nearly so vindictive. Bees make honey and pollinate flowers. Wasps get pissed on rotting damsons and sting you repeatedly for the sheer bloody hell of it.

Weeds: The only green things in your garden that are not killed by weedkiller.

Woodlice: piggy beetles we called them when we were children. Tiny little armadillos that pass their time away chomping on rotten wood and trekking across your mushroom carpet the first time you invite the posh in-laws to dinner.

Gardening – a brief guide (part one – the fundamentals and the seasonals).

garden tools

Spring Bank Holiday is almost upon us in the UK and all thoughts turn to the garden and gardening. The garden centre is filled to capacity and, for once, not just with people waiting for the Sunday Roast. My little gardening guide is split into three parts, which will take us into and through the bank holiday. In the time you will eventually take to read it, you could have planted any number of shrubs, mowed several lawns or painted the shed. Just think of that… Now, would you like me to run you a bath?

Let us begin with a definition:
Gardening – The act of undertaking tasks for which you are not equipped, in a hostile environment full of lethal dangers both natural and manmade, from which you have no protection.

It is the arrival of Spring that first sends us tottering out into the garden with a broom handle (with or without broom head) to prop up the wonky fence panel; a dinner fork (as the garden fork will have rusted away) with which to dig up everything that has died over the winter, and several trays of various seedlings that we can watch over as they die in the weeks ahead. Each season brings its own challenges:

Spring: the long, dark nights of winter are falling behind us and the time has come to collect together all of the tools that you accidentally left outside at the beginning of winter and spray them with WD40 – even though you know perfectly well that it will not work. Buds fill, leaves unfurl, early blossoms glisten in the morning dew and the door falls off the shed. Now is the time to give the lawn its first cut of the year, carefully replacing all the divots ripped from the ground by the winter-blunted blades as you go. However early you choose to make this first cut, it is always a) too early for nature and b) too late for your partner.
Summer: your garden will be in full bloom. Now is the time to take a garden seat, reattach the leg with a six-inch nail, sit and enjoy the riot of colour and scent that is your garden in full bloom. Now is the time to throw away last year’s rusty – and let’s face it, unhygienic – barbecue and, if you’ve any sense at all, never to consider buying a replacement. Ever. Now is the time to find out where next-doors bloody cat keeps doing its business.
Autumn: season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. In my experience, garden fruit exists in only two states: a) unripe and b) rotten. If you find something that looks ripe and hasn’t been half-eaten by insects, it is almost certainly poisonous. Now is the time to repair and pack away for winter. As most of your tools remain unusable from being left out over the previous winter and your garden furniture is so rotten it won’t even burn, there seems little point. Make the most of the relative warmth of long autumn evenings by filling the garden with candles. There is nothing quite like the combination of fading autumn light, flickering candle flame and red wine to heighten the awareness of your own mortality. ‘Tis the season to be maudlin. Although the insect-life is much reduced by now, most of what remains will either bite or sting or both. Wear a knitted hat at all times when in the garden. There is nothing worse than approaching winter with a grotesquely swollen ear that makes you look like Dumbo when viewed from the side.
Winter: the best of all seasons in which to enjoy your garden – from inside. Revel in the fact that at this time of year nobody expects a person of your age to be out in the cold – and, also, that when covered in a thick blanket of snow, this is the one time when your garden looks just as good as everybody else’s.

The modern gardener faces a number of horticultural challenges seldom faced by their urban predecessors:

Hanging Baskets – The horticultural equivalent of the Mayfly: leave it unattended for 24 hours and it will die. If the weather is dry, it will die. If it is windy, it will die. If it is raining, it will somehow escape the water and die. I, on the other hand, will not escape the water as I will be outside watering the f*cking thing. Allowing the hanging basket to die is punishable by death or long silences punctuated by sighing.

Pots and Containers – Similar to hanging baskets (above) with the added attraction that whilst they too will dry out and die within twenty-four hours if not watered, they will also become waterlogged in the rain – and die.

Ponds – All the joys of a garden, with the option of drowning. If you must have a pond, just don’t be tempted to stock it up with expensive fish: they will only be eaten by next door’s cat who will continue to crap in your wellies regardless. As elsewhere in your garden, any expensive plants will quickly be swamped by weed which is almost impossible to remove. Ponds will attract all manner of wildlife to your garden: birds, frogs, toads, newts and god-knows-what when the lights have gone out. Official advice is that ponds require regular cleaning. If you have ever driven along the side of a canal that is being dredged, you will know how pleasant this task is. Whatever lurks at the bottom of the pond is either dead, smelly, slimy or all of the above. My advice is to leave it where it is. It may be a little unsightly, but the frogs seem to like it and the water is generally so green that you can never see the bottom anyway. Waterfalls and/or fountains require a suitable electric point from which to run them. The one thing I know about electricity is that it is never good news when mixed with water. Unless you want to get involved in a row with your neighbour over how, exactly, his cat came to be hurled, smoking, over the fence after trying to drink out of your pond, don’t bother with a pump of any kind. An electric pond pump will fuse the house more often than an inopportune finger in a leaking kettle and leave you continually fishing dead things out of the murky depths (preferably after turning off the electric). If you want to make more of a feature of your pond you could introduce some floating solar lights. They never work, but they do provide a convenient resting place for passing birds and they will not electrocute you when they finally fill up with water, turn upside down and sink.