Mowing the Lawn

There’s something very therapeutic about mowing the lawn at this time of year, not least in the knowledge that you shouldn’t have to be doing it for too much longer.  The sun, although as bright as ever, has lost its fiercest heat; the days are shortening perceptibly, the mower’s basket is less full.  Even the ants have given up creating bare patches for now.

My lawns are not huge: well within the range of the mower’s cable.  They are far from flat, but unlike last year, they are at least green.  They are certainly no bowling green.  They host various bouts of running, tumbling, football and cricket.  The bounce is, at best, variable.  It would leave Joe Root¹ staring at the sky, having vainly chased another one rising sharply just wide of off: it would leave Jordan Pickford² cursing his luck as he fished another one out of the net.  But we manage ok, the grandkids and me.  Lord knows, we even manage a bit of golf – although with very limited success, when we discover that the hole is full of clothes dryer instead of flag.  I must admit that the combination of eighteen inch plastic putter, lightweight plastic ball, uneven surface and grass that is at least two inches longer than regulation does little to help.  I would claim to be the world’s worst golfer, were it not for my granddaughter who, tired of constantly missing the ball, gradually takes to thrashing the plants in a manner that I do not think would be considered at all sporting at the R&A.

The mowing is not a long job – although on a good day I can make it so – and I can sense that even my tiny electric mower finishes it with a wheeze of ‘Is that it?  Is that all you’ve got?’  Well, yes, it is.  Mind you, it’s alright for you little Bosch, you are blithely unaware of how scruffy a front hedge appears alongside a neatly cut lawn.  My wife is not, and I am quickly apprised of the situation. 

My electric hedge trimmers add a suitable level of jeopardy, if not actual danger, to the morning.  When they were younger, they may well have been capable of excising an errant finger here and there, of chopping through an injudiciously placed cable; now, they would merely give either a nasty nag, but an unwelcome one none-the-less. Unfortunately I do not have the intellect to buy common-sense, and we remain uneasy bedfellows, electrical equipment and I.  We are all much happier when anything with an external power supply is safely stowed away in the shed.  Not quite so therapeutic is the actual process of ‘stowing’.  There is nothing in my shed that does not strive to injure me in some way or another.  Like Mr Magoo striding purposefully towards an upturned rake, I approach confidently, but there is inevitable harm awaiting.  If I do not get punctured by some unseen implement, I get stung by a belligerent house-guest, or receive an eyeful of some noxious something-or-another that I had completely forgotten ever storing there.  We have a very traditional love/hate relationship, the shed and I – although from my side it is all hate.

Still, that’s not the worst of it.  ‘As you’re out there,’ says the voice from within, ‘the gutter’s leaking.’  My relationship with ladders is even more problematic than my relationship with all things electrical and pointy.  I have never had problems with walking underneath them, it is the standing on top of the bloody things that bothers me.  (On a scale of 1-10, where 1 = becalmed and 10 = an autumn day on Neptune, how much wind does there have to be to make you feel unsafe on a ladder?  Answer, 0.)  Anyway, I did it.  Did I mention that I had to rest the ladder on the garage roof, having climbed up there via a step ladder?  Still, not quite so far to fall.  I didn’t, by the way, fall off that is.  I cleared the gutter without mishap; got myself and the ladder off the garage roof without incident and stored the step ladder back in the shed completely without injury.  Until, that it, I stubbed my toe on the lawnmower…

¹England cricket captain – widely regarded as one of the best bats in the world until, like many before him, the precise moment at which he was made captain, at which point, the wheels fell off.

²As I write, England goalkeeper, although that may change.  Eccentric, like most goalkeepers, Jordan has elevated the state into full-on barking at the moon.

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.