The garden is finally beginning to give off the appearance of having been cultivated, rather than simply left to the mercy of nature and entropy.
This is all down to my endeavours, of course. And a neighbour who kindly topped some of our loftier trees. And the fact that yesterday we had two arborists in to cut back our sprawling sycamore whose branches were interfering with the eaves of a neighbouring property. These polite, punctual and efficient tree-fanciers have resolved the main problem in the garden, and kindly taken the hewn-off branches with them leaving us debris-free.
So it was a slightly tidier garden that I worked in yesterday, toiling to remove the incredibly tenacious ivy that has is so firmly established it will require constant vigilance to keep at bay. I have mentally separated the garden into six quarters (you can do that, right?) and tackled them one at a time. Four down, two to go. The roots of some of the ivy plants, especially the ones throttling the sycamore, are about four inches thick and a hell of a battle to sever.
The other major problem we face is widespread brambles. Whist I enjoy a blackberry tart as much as the next man, I’m happier to give my shillings to the supermarket for their fruitstuffs rather than leave the brambles in the garden and pick their spoils in summer. The grand mother of them all, which sits resolute by the left-hand side fence, is about a root about a foot across and a foot thick. When approaching it I feel a bit like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens cautiously nearing the Alien queen. Uprooting Queen Bramble isn’t an option. All I can do is cut her back and hope she dies, and to dig up her spawn before they too become too firmly established. Some of her offspring have knotted gnarled roots about the shape and size of a turnip, with tendrils stretching further down into the soil. They aren’t easy to dig up. It’s advisable to cut back the stems too, or risk the thorns constantly hitting you in the face as you dig at the roots.
We inherited this mess from the previous residents, who, to put it bluntly and kindly, weren’t keen gardeners. It will take me all of this spring and summer, our first full warm seasons in the house, just to cut the garden into some form where it’s possible to cultivate our own look next year. It’s an odd garden too, full of unconvincing borders, sycamore saplings, burst fences and jungle-like weeds. Whilst pulling out the strands of ivy I found various evidences of the accumulated detritus of the former owners, most pertinently a champagne cork with the metal cap still attached. What, I wonder, had they been celebrating back in a time when the garden would have been meaningless to me? Pegs, firework rocket stands and a cement hatch that’s probably something to do with the water mains are all items I unexpectedly uncovered yesterday. They remind me that I’m still getting to know the garden, and that its history marks me out (a resident of just under a year) as a relative stranger in its century of life, dating back to a time when the sycamore tree was a sapling like so many of its spawn are now.
It’s evidence of other people’s lives, now gone or happening elsewhere, and I feel slightly heartless chucking it all in the bin. Perhaps they loved the ivy and the brambles I am now so ruthlessly hunting down and extinguishing. When I am gone the next owners will have other ideas still. I recall the graves our rats in the flower beds of our last home, and hope that the current owner, a curmudgeonly old bint, and any subsequent owners, don’t make any macabre discoveries a foot beneath the earth.
Gardens remind you that nothing is permanent, and that everything is ever-changing.
For the past three months, since early spring, I’ve been trailed in the garden by a little robin. I know it’s always the same one because he has an identifiable scruffy patch of white feathers on his red breast. I’m never in the garden for longer than a few minutes before he appears, often on the nearest fence. Sometimes I hear him singing concealed on the branch of a tree before he actually shows himself.
What he’s doing is watching me do all the hard work. Once I’ve turned over the soil and dug up a few juicy worms and grubs for him and moved on to the next section, he swoops down and feasts. He’ll land within two feet of me and happily pick away at the spoils I’ve unearthed. I find this indescribably touching. Sometimes I talk to him and he cocks his head and listens. I dread the day when I go out and he doesn’t appear.
It’s lovely to share the garden with other species (yesterday I spotted a baby frog, about two inches in length, a large moth [not sure of the species], several honey bees and a bumble bee), and it’s part of why I feel so at peace with the world in gardens as compared to busy city centres. I enjoy feeling connected with the natural world. I find that reassurance seeing small black rodents scuttling across the lines of the Underground – the welcome reminder that humans are just one species in a rich and diverse planet; but that we are all interconnected through our long evolutionary past.
When I was a child I was often of the opinion that, especially when it came to religion, adults just made things up as they went along. My grandmother once told me that priests had blue blood. I examined priests closely on every subsequent visit to church and not long afterwards spotted one who had cut himself whilst shaving. Either outcome was unthinkable: my grandmother was lying to me or the priest was an imposter. So when she told me that only humans went to heaven I wasn’t unduly concerned. The thought of a hermetically-sealed environment full of people wasn’t (and still isn’t) a happy one. If dogs, plants, birds, trees, flowers and all the other species whose company I adore had no place in the hereafter, then neither did I. It sounded like my idea of hell.
So it may sound like a small thing, being pestered by a robin in the garden for months on end, or spending a fortune to feed starlings and their fledglings who dine in my garden daily: but these connections make life worthwhile for me, and I couldn’t be without them.