Lessons In Confined Vegetation

Do you garden? It’s like asking “Do you Kung-Fu?” in its restless grip on the absence of grammar. I can do neither, and I doubt I would even know where to start. Gardening – like Kung-Fu – is yet another one of those areas of life where my complete lack of interest is matched only by my utter absence of either knowledge or practical ability. I can pick up heavy things for you; just don’t ask me to plant you a pretty begonia. If a begonia is, indeed, something which you would like to see planted.

Growing up, we had a concrete area, where the dogs created a mess on an almost hourly bases, at the rear of the house. We called this a yard, but it was more like the exercise yard for a ridiculously poor prison. Directly in front of our house was the pavement – public land frequented by members of said public: if we had left anything there, like confined vegetation, it would have been stolen.

The upshot of all of this is that I have never been around the opportunity to develop either the basic interest or the practical skills in tending to vegetation, either deliberately confined or allowed to roam freely. I don’t even think I have the appropriate vocabulary to adequately describe gardening.

What am I talking about? Where has this sudden “interest” in something I could not normally care any less come from? Well, it would appear that I have a garden. In fact, it would appear that I have two of them. To the rear of our house we have a large concrete area where our dogs were wont to perform their toiletry ablutions – until relatively recently. To the front of our house we have gravel.

This gravel used to contain some large conifers, but they were blocking 95% of the light in to the room we keep down there, so they had to go. Over the last four years we have planted some more things out there: my daughter’s Rowan tree, a mangy Hydrangea, and a delightful Japanese Maple. As is my role in such affairs I did the heavy lifting and performed casual violence with a shovel.

What I hadn’t expected was that this now constitutes a “garden”. While it does not require tending of any kind, it is still an area of plant growth. That is alien to me. What I had expected even less was that our dogs would shift their sanitary requirements from the rear of the property to the front, so that we could vegetise the back of the house too. We now have what I am told is a “fernery”.

I’m not saying that my partner didn’t discuss all of these things with me: I was very much part of the discussions, planning and carrying out of all of these new facets of our residential experience. What I was not expecting was the move from “home owner” to “home and garden owner”. There is a very distinct crossover here with “gardener”; one which I utterly reject. I reject it completely out of hand.

I bought a house, not a plot of land. I barely even know what to do with a house, never mind a patch of decaying plant matter and dog urine. I knew that we would be doing work on this house, but I was hoping to find tradespeople who would help me navigate the unknown waters of renovation with the benefit of their expertise. And for the most part they did. With gardening, it is assumed that we have the aptitude for such things; that it is natural to make the land beholden to us at once. No.

I cannot tell the difference between the different kind of plants and trees and bushes and shrubs and fruits and vegetables which grow, or are likely to grow, in the vicinity of a terraced house in the north east of England. I expect things to go mouldy, rot and generally fall over. That is my level.

I completely agree that the vista out of both the front and back rooms has been massively improved by the work that I have watched my pregnant partner do (like I said, I do the heavy lifting) over the last few years. I’m not denying that it is all an improvement on render, gravel and concrete. I’m just saying that I have absolutely no understanding of the impulse or the drive to improve things like this.

The two are perfectly compatible, so stop trying to infer things that I am not saying through the gaps in logic which are not there. I am not saying that I want to rip the whole lot out and use it for mess; I am saying that I like its appearance. I just feel overwhelmed by the concept of making such spaces better through the medium of growing stuff. I understand painting a wall or hanging a picture; I don’t understand the need for a potted plant. Although I do think it looks nice when it just arrives.

In the same way I would never buy anyone flowers as a gift. I just don’t know how to wrap my head around the idea that people appreciate being given something complicatedly colourful, which smells of old ladies. Apparently they look pretty, but they will also – apparently – rot very quickly, and fall.

I don’t garden. Not because I don’t think gardens are nice, but because I don’t think of gardens when I do think of all of the things which exist in the world. It’s not that I think other things are better; I just forget that everything exists, and when I start to try and remember what does exist – food, beer, the sky, me, sleep, gravity, my family, armchairs, cake, coffee – gardens don’t spring to my mind.

The British are apparently well known for our love of gardens. I’m very definitely British, but I don’t love gardens. Is it the fact that we get so much rain that we can actually rely on things taking root? Or is it the fact that our weather is so resolutely drab that we have the innate need to beautify our surroundings all the live long year? Or is it a weird stereotype, like the French being very arrogant?

Either way, I now seem to have the responsibility to, if not tend to or care for, think about some plants and trees. Apparently I can leave the fungi to do their own thing, as they were accidental and probably came with the house. In fact, it seems that as long as I pick up dog poo I’m fine and dandy. Just don’t ask me to point out which fern is which in the fernery: I honestly can’t tell the difference.