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Springing into the garden

Spring is the time when you must undo all your winter neglect in the garden, when you must untangle, unchoke, dig up, till, weed, feed, mulch, sow, weed again, repot, water and maintain.

But, in my case at least, the spring urge to tidy up is way stronger than the earlier winter urge to neglect. Let’s call it the spring factor, the spring fling, if you will.

The pruned roses have survived the winter but have had to have wild, invasive, deep-rooted grasses as their bedmates. And boy, do they take some getting out!

But with my arsenal of pitchfork, spade, trowel, Sherman tank, gelignite and tow truck, I have cleared the soil around every rose so that the roots no longer have to compete with wild grasses for soil nutrients.

I’ve tilled the soil around each bush and lovingly crumbled it between my gloved fingers. I’ve even stirred in a spring treat – a good serving of compost.

It all takes its toll on an ageing body.

Charles Dudley Warner, American essayist, novelist and friend of Mark Twain, summed it up well: “What a man needs in gardening is a cast-iron back with a hinge in it.”

It doesn’t really hit you until your body reminds you at day’s end how much of the work is way down on the ground. Bending over becomes your default position. If you are lucky, you will be able to straighten up after it. Of course, this is why raised garden beds are such a sound idea and I hope to teach my beds to levitate.

I have a system for measuring how much work I have done in a gardening day:

Stage 1. If I can function normally in all matters of mobility, I have done nothing or very little.

Stage 2. If I can feel aching in my legs and back, I have done a reasonable amount, an amount I can even be proud of.

Stage 3. If I have to limp back into the house at day’s end, I’ve possibly overdone things.

Stage 4. If, at day’s end, I am still in the garden posing as an immovable staple, I really have overdone things. Please bring me a cold beer with an upside-down drinking glass.

One of the least encouraging aspects of undoing the winter neglect is just how long the putting right takes. At the end of a hard day, you can survey the property and discern … no difference. You yourself know all the little things you’ve done, but to the casual glance, it amount to very little.

If you are visiting someone who has just spent such a day in the garden, the words you should definitely avoid are, “It doesn’t look any different than it did before.” Better to tell a little white lie than say those words.

I have spent four solid [stage 2] days so far and estimate I have done about 15 per cent of the overall work required.

Last week, after the first two days, someone clearly noticed the effect on my mobility and suggested to me that I should “get someone in”. That is not an option unless I am stuck at stage 4.

You can’t garden by proxy. You cannot vicariously enjoy the concept of running your fingers through the soil.

“The best way to garden is to put on a wide-brimmed hat and some old clothes. And with a hoe in one hand and a cold drink in the other, tell someone else where to dig.” [Texas Bix Bender].

Sorry, I beg to differ.

In fact, I’m now going online to see if I can order a cast-iron back with a hinge in it.

    Wyn Drabble is a teacher of English, a writer, musician and public speaker.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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