I’ve never had an affinity for gardening, or even for growing things in a pot, just one thing in a small pot, watercress on a damp cloth even.
But this garden that we have at the moment seems to be able to grow things spontaneously, despite my greatest efforts to not make it grwo things at all, IN SPITE of my greatest efforts in fact.
When we moved in here the back garden was a desert.
There is no actual desert within, oooh, two thousand miles of here of course, but the previous owner of this house had taken half of the back garden and laid that black cloth stuff on top of the soil, that stuff that stops stuff growing, and then covered the black stuff with shale, different coloured shale, in a decorative attempt to create a shale covered garden.
The rest of the garden was what estate agents so creatively call “laid to lawn” which in actuality means that when the house was built in 1955 the first owner threw some assorted grass seed on the rubble that the builders had left behind and sometime later some grass grew and those roots have been producing more grass every summer that needs cutting every two weeks to prevent it looking like “the rough” bit of a Scottish golf course, the ones where they really do leave “the rough” to nature.
The first summer that we were here I took to my carpentry tools and built, if I say so myself, a quite impressive deck to separate the “laid to lawn” area from the shale desert, I built a fish pond in it and everything, and included several “planters”, area that I could fill with soil and plant things in.
But what to plant was the question, given my history of unique planting failures.
Well thats not quite true, there was once a small plant that I bought for a few pennies at Cookridge County Primary Schools first Parent/Teacher Association summer fair, I was about ten years old and I spent a few of my own pennies on this single stalk with a single leaf on top and took it home like Jack proudly taking home his fledgling beanstalk – which is a very good description of what happened next.
Someone told me that plants grow well in tea leafs, probably some lunatic, I don’t know where I heard that from, but every day after my mother had brewed a teapot of tea (yes, teabags haven’t always been the rage you know) I’d take the pot and pour the dregs, including the tea leaves all over my single stalk plant which according to its label was an “Australian Kangaroo Plant”, don’t bother looking it up in a book because I’ve been looking for another one for forty years, there is no such plant.
Anyway, the Australian Kangaroo Plant loved cold tea and it started to grow, and then after repotting it several times it reached the height of the ceiling, still with just one huge leaf on top of it, and then it sort of bent over and started to grow along the ceiling until it could no longer support its weight and it fell over one night and was binned by my father who’s horticultural skills were some way behind mine.
So apart from the Australian Kangaroo Made-Up Name Plant, I have never grown anything at all.
Well thats not quite true either.
Lets just go back to my fathers bungalow again, the 1960s in the same time frame as the Australian Kangaroo Plant, we’d moved into that bungalow in 1963 and along the front wall of the bungalow were four short stumps, short, furry stumps, that had some leaves on them, they looked a bit like small trees or bushes except that they had furry bark.
Sumac Trees is what they were, or as us kids preferred to call them, Shoemac, furry trees with leaves like fern fronds, weird trees, trees that we’d never seen before and despite our family’s best efforts to ignore and neglect them, they thrived and had soon grown above the wall where upon folk walking past the house would stop, stare with a puzzled expression at our trees, reach out to touch them and mutter, “They have fur” and then stand there regarding our trees as if they had discovered an alien life form until one of us came out of the house to shoo them away.
My fathers Shoemac trees just grew and grew and not content with populating our garden they started to send out shoots into neighbours gardens too, every spring was highlighted by at least one scream from a distant garden somewhere down our street as another neighbour discovered that they too had a tree with fur instead of bark.
Meanwhile our Shoemac trees were several feet high and completely hiding the bungalow behind long fern-like fronds and my father decided to saw them down one day, as he did so they secreted a sticky, white glue like substance which stuck to everything in his tool box and caused him to fly into a rage so that the shoemacs were cut right down to the ground, which in turn annoyed the Shoemacs so much that they redoubled their efforts in neighbours gardens and beyond and by the end of that summer we were now the only garden in Cookridge that wasn’t populated by Shoemac trees – and neighbours were starting to talk and point towards our house when the subject of “bloody nuisance” arose.
It was shortly after then that we noticed that the pavement outside of our front garden was starting to lift and then another short time later the tarmac on the road started to lift as well and it was when the Shoemac trees started to emerge from beneath the pavement and road that my father realised that he’d really pissed off the Shoemac trees by cutting them to the ground and by now it was to be a fight to the death.
I don’t know what it was, or where he got it from, but remember that my dad knew all sorts of people in his life, some of them not strictly legal sort of people, but he came home one evening with a small bottle of fluid which he placed on a high shelf in the garage and warned Ned and I not to touch it under any circumstances as we’d be dead within seconds if we did.
Tying a handkerchief across his face like a cowboy baddy he went out into the front garden and drilled several holes in the stumps of what used to be our Shoemac trees before they became everyone’s Shoemac trees, and then he carried, ever so carefully, the bottle of fluid from the garage and put one drop inside every hole.
You know the rest don’t you.
Yep, didn’t stop them one bit, this whole suburb now is riddled with Shoemac trees and every time I walk past a garden riddled with them, or trip over a pavement that is lifting because of the roots, I smile to myself and recall that it was my father, in 1963, who introduced the species to planet earth, or at least this small portion of planet earth.
And now look whats happened, we’ve run out of space so will have to continue tomorrow…