People say that one of the longest-running stage plays in the UK was Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap. Well, I've played the game, that's all I'm saying. But there's a new play in town and it comes round once a year and runs for the whole summer. In fact it doesn't run out of gas until late in October. It's called, quite simply, The Futility of Gardening and it has a cast of thousands, mainly men, who, from around this time of year until the end of October, haul lawnmowers from their sheds or garages and walk up and down the garden moving from left to right or right to left – or a bit of both.
I went to a matinee performance today. It was my day off, you see, but these days, there's no such thing. And now that The Futility of Gardening is showing every weekend – everyday when you consider the fretting that goes on midweek about the forthcoming weekend performance – even my weekends will be taken up with 'work' in some shape or form. These days, there's no such thing as a day off.
The Futility of Gardening is all about that word 'futility' or 'futile' and it sets out to prove that gardening is basically a futile activity. In the same way that it's impossible to hold back the tide of the sea, it's impossible to hold back garden growth.
Rod Stewart used to sing about the first cut being the deepest. Well, when it comes to mowing the lawn after the winter 'break' – inverted commas deliberate because there's no such thing as a break in my world – the first cut has to be on a high setting otherwise the mower jams and has to be turned on its side so that the grass clogging up the rotary blades, preventing the thing from working, can be cleared out.
|The height of summer in my back garden...|
Up and down I go and then I decide to crank it down a notch to the next slightly shorter setting and move from side to side until I reach the bottom end of the garden. I don't really mind mowing the lawn. It gets me out in the fresh air and in many ways it's like cycling as it allows me to switch off and think about stuff I wouldn't normally have to the time think about if I was in the house trying my best to avoid a household chore. And believe me there are a lot of chores on the list: painting the woodwork on the stairway, hammering out a load of bathroom tiles from the downstairs toilet, boring stuff like stacking or unstacking the dishwasher or, horror of horrors, taking out the rubbish. You name it, it's there to be done.
So I was walking back and forth from the bottom to the top of the garden, wondering how stupid I would look to the neighbours if I was pacing up and down the lawn without a mower, when I looked over to the rather daunting flowerbed on my right. It was full of tufts of grass and a plant I like to call the Devil's Forget Me Not because it's not the light blue of the harmless Forget Me Not, it's this angry deep blue and it has a long, thick root that's impossible, most of the time, to pull out completely – meaning it'll come back when I least expect it to. At the moment it hasn't flowered and it won't for a couple of months, but when it's out, it's out and it's not a bad-looking flower, it's just that it spreads, and when it's not flowering, like now, it's just a bunch of floppy, green, cabbage-like leaves that spread like wildfire. I've given up all hope of taking out the Devil's Forget Me Not (I certainly won't forget it either; I can't, it's always there, goading me, laughing at me).
And then there's the tufts of grass; they've got to go too, but what amount of hassle is that going to create? I'll dig down and get it all out, but it'll take a month of Sundays and guess what? It'll be back next year – if not earlier. And once I've got it all out and I've dealt with the Devil's Forget Me Nots, I'll have to do the worst job of the lot: 'bagging up'. I hate bagging up. It's bad enough with twigs and sticks that poke through the plastic bag, but it's even worse with tufts of dirt-laden grass that I shake half-heartedly before dropping them in the bag, which becomes heavier and heavier and eventually has to be hauled across the lawn like a corpse.
And what about that prickly, creepy thing that's entwined around the conifer? And the bushes pouring on to the lawn that need cutting back? What about the stinging nettles that grow back no matter how often they're cut and the moss on the patio?
At the moment it's all quiet on the western front. Not much is happening, but in a few weeks I'll have a big battle on my hands, the fight being to keep it all down when perhaps what I should be doing is taking a leaf out of Donald Trump's book. I should be building a wall around the house, like sea defences, to stem the tide of growth that's about to hit. And we've yet to talk about the front garden. I'm surrounded! It's as if I live on a suburban atoll in the middle of a stormy sea of weeds, thistles and shrubs and all I have to defend myself with is a trowel and a rake and a mower and a rusty old saw and some aptly named 'pruning gauntlets'. Because that's what you're doing when you head outside in your 'old clothes'. You're running the gauntlet or rather the gauntlet has been thrown down – by Mother Nature.
And don't for one minute think that when you've mowed the lawn and pulled out a few weeds it's game over. Far from it. And when you hear somebody say, "Shall we eat outside, it's such a lovely day," be afraid. Be very afraid. Because within minutes of making yourself comfortable on that garden furniture that cost you an arm and a leg, the wasps will arrive and you will spend the rest of your alfresco lunch swatting them and then, when all is lost, running indoors, plate in hand, to sit in a cool, darkened living room from where you watch those who remain outside waving their arms around frantically in a desperate attempt not to be stung.
Perhaps Astroturf and plastic flowers are the answer. But they will need dusting. I could concrete over the entire garden, front and back, but imagine how depressing that would be in the rain. There would be puddles too and I'd probably be saddled with a few troublesome potted shrubs.
Ultimately, there's nothing I can do about it. I'm a houseowner. I have a front and back garden and they both need tending from March through to October. As my dear old dad would have said, "Get on with it." And to be fair, I've done just that, and now that we're in March, it's all about to kick off and I haven't even mentioned hay fever. We'll leave that for another post.