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Friday, November 25, 2011

The Reluctant Gardener

I miss the smell of my freshly watered mint! I took such pleasure in it every morning, out there early with the hose before the day got too hot. But my mint is gone.

Now that we are settled in the home we expect to inhabit for the rest of our lives, I have at last been making some small progress in gardening. Witches should surely have that connection with the earth, I tell myself. But it doesn’t come naturally. When I was very young — maybe four — my Dad and my Grandma (his mother) thought to instill in me their own love of gardening. They selected a garden bed that could be mine, gave me a little trowel and watched encouragingly as I dug into the earth, turning it over in the way they showed me.

Out of that black dirt came a long, thick, moving thing, the length of my hand and half the width. Its huge, round, segmented body was a white so pale that it was almost transparent — like slime. It nosed about blindly as it encountered the light. I had never seen anything so repulsive. I shrieked, dropped the trowel and ran.‘It’s only a grub,’ they said, but I could not be persuaded back.

I didn’t try again until I was in my late fifties, in my third (and present) marriage. We moved from Melbourne to the Northern Rivers region of NSW, and eventually decided to try growing our own food. It wasn’t a great success. Our pumpkins proliferated, threatening to take over the planet. We simply couldn’t keep up with them, no matter how many we used and gave away. Our lettuces grew high stalks instead of bushy heads, with tiny, separate leaves like miniature branches. We were absolved from dealing with it all when the landlord decided he wanted to live in his house himself.

In our next house, I decided to grow some herbs and was quite proud of my efforts — until the landlady very soon dug them all up, thinking she was getting rid of weeds. After that, I grew geraniums. Nice, hardy, cheerful plants, they’ll grow pretty much anywhere and thrive even for me. But you can’t eat them.

In this present home, I discovered that the previous tenant had planted mint and cherry tomatoes, They both appeared suddenly, under the frangipanni tree out the front. I mulched the ground and built it up, to make a separate area from the lawn. I didn’t want my lawnmower man mowing my edible garden flat! The tomatoes grew in all seasons and we ate them for a year. Then they died.

The mint kept on, but some bug attacked it. It developed holes and brown spots. ‘Soapy water,’ said our handyman, so I put some in a spray and went to work. The holes and the discolouration stopped getting any worse. New mint grew up clean and whole.

The weeds grew up too, thick and strong. A ground cover with small, round leaves interspersed itself among the mint plants. Tough grasses pushed their way in under the tree. It all seemed far too much for me to tackle. Our friend up the end of the street had his 16-year-old grandson staying with him before going off to begin an apprenticeship as a gardener. I thought the lad might like to earn a few dollars, and asked if he would weed my mint bed for me. He would.

And so yesterday he did. I had already shown him the job, and he brought his own tools, so I left him to it. I told him to put all the weeds he dug up into the green bin, as there was a collection of garden refuse scheduled this morning. When he knocked on the door an hour later to say he’d finished, he looked endearingly proud of himself. I went to see. He’d taken everything — mint and all!

What could I do? I thanked him and paid him. Later I looked in the green bin, thinking to find some of the good sprigs of mint and replant them. They were buried deep, not visible. I gave up. The ground under the frangipanni can go back to lawn — which in many ways will be easier. Well, it’s the dark of the moon, a time for endings ... and a time for new beginnings.

Round the back I’ve got some herbs which are trying hard to survive the heat, and a single broccoli from the three seedlings I planted some months ago. The back yard might the place to plant new mint and tomatoes. I miss the smell of freshly watered mint!

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