Gardening: a warning from nature

A neighbour who is a gardener was bemoaning his workload over coming days, so I mentioned that I was currently at something of a loose end and I could just about tell one end of a spade from the other (I googled it).  He decided to take me on for some casual work and, rather curiously, I appear to have become a gardener.

Now the title 'gardener' suggests that I have some deep knowledge of greenery and a sense of the land around me, which I do not.  I use the term to describe myself purely because I have done some gardening and therefore can claim it in good faith.  I have got the weals, bites and cuts to justify the title even if I remain a complete amateur.  I have cut, I have deadheaded, I have dug up roots, I have removed ivy, I have tussled with a bush whose name even now escapes me but it bloody hurt. I therefore feel justiffied in calling myself a gardener.

 By contrast to my severely limited knowledge, my neighbour and now boss is one of those almost mystical people who feel their trade.  This is someone who gives off a wonderfully calming aura of knowledge and of connection to every scrap of growing stuff surrounding him. He knows the whole history of a shrub, the evolution of a tree, the location of the annoying tree stump into which you are going to crash the mower (remarkably, I didn't but it's early days...).  He has nurtured whole estates and exhibits a passion for every area of growth that is truly inspiring.  The challenge is, having called myself a gardener after a mere two days of pain, what can we call this philosopher of nature?

Anyway, the point is I don't want to give myself airs.  I have just done a bit of gardening and as someone who grew up in a flat in South London - a past which has given me practically no knowledge of horticulture - my new pastime is proving to be both a delight and an education.

The first day was a simple introduction to the trade as I was given the job of mowing several lawns in an absurdly beautiful house somewhere in Gloucestershire.  This job was carried out on a ride-on mower - fun for the first hour, less so as the day wore on, although the insouciance with which I was throwing it about by the end of the afternoon was extremely rewarding.  Who knew I would get the chance to render a croquet lawn smooth, taking care to keep to the rather haphazard shape, ending up in the middle where I was required to execute absurdly tight turns as I finished off the last few strips?  Driving away and looking back on your handiwork is somewhat akin to the feeling you get as a child when you build a particularly good Lego model of a spaceship or Luxembourg.

And the top field?!  Well, if Wembley need a replacement groundsman, I'm their man.  It was like a billiard table by the time I'd finished!. (It absolutely wasn't but you will never know the truth of it.  Suffice it to say that it looked okay and the boss was satisfied.)

Negotiating my new toy around a small lake, up tiny tracks which felt like they were at 45 degrees and down the rise to the compost bins was remarkably rewarding - helped, it must be acknowledged, by the beautiful weather.  When the biggest problem you face at work is topping up the sunblock and staying hydrated, things are pretty good.

This first day brought one of those moments beloved of sitcoms.  Pootling along on the mower, I felt something in my hat.  I waved it away but this was a mistake as what turned out to be a bee took umbrage, leading to the classic scene of some idiot hurtling along ('hurtling' is about 5mph) on a ride on mower waving both arms and a hat as an unseen assailant sought to wreak bloody revenge on them for encroaching on its territory.  The bee was a persistent little bugger so this continued for some way until eventually he decided he'd made his point and went off for a nectar snack.  I rehearsed my choicest Anglo-Saxon and rubbed the wound this vicious creature had made while the Buddha of Gardening wandered over and proferred some cream.  Turns out they don't die when they sting you.  Sods.

Day two was similarly idyllic, even if nature decided to offer me something by way of a wake up call.  After a hazy start, the sun once more began to blaze and the surroundings were equally beautiful.  However, this day the plants had other ideas about co-operating.  I began with what was quite literally a more pedestrian mower which I used to do the lawn in artistic curves leading to a focal point - as advised - but only once the windfalls had been removed from beneath the apple tree and the various poos from four dogs were disposed of.  By the end of the job I was a little disappointed with the overall appearance, largely because of the dry conditions rather than any shortfalls in my mowing prowess.  However, I was advised by the guru to step back and look and, true to form, it did look better.  It needs a bit of rain but hey, don't we all?

Removing some growth from the side of the house (I couldn't begin to describe what it was, although some of it was hated ivy) I was doing okay until that dreaded moment when I cut through the plant which wasn't supposed to be removed. Cue 'I've dropped the best china' angst until the absurdly relaxed proper gardener shrugged and told me it would all grow back. How on earth do you get that relaxed?!

There was much tidying and some deadheading of roses (honestly, I felt like I should be on Gardeners' Question Time, although I did have to ask twice what the stufff growing on the front of the house was (wisteria, I learned).  The last job was cutting the flowers from a...from a...well, a large bush of some description.  This required a ladder which was leant against the bendy, wavy branches.  What could go wrong?

Me, it turns out.  Having put up with the usual cuts and scrapes from this demon bush, I became overconfident and leaned a bit too far, eventually finding myself hanging between the now one-legged ladder and the monstrous bush. In true English fashion, I called politely for my colleague to help but he was otherwise occupied in another part of the garden so I had to extricate myself from the torment single-handed, swearing and cursing all the time, naturally.  I finished the job in a rather truculent manner and staggered to the ground, nursing my wounds and with a renewed respect for nature.There is clearly more to gardening than lawnmowing and killer bees

The dream will end eventually and I'll find myself back in an office, hopefully doing something rewarding but for the moment, gardening in the sun is ludicrously enjoyable, despite the underlying violence of nature.

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