Tuesday, August 7, 2007


To some people it may seem strange, but I’ve always felt a close affinity to the Welsh balladeer, Tom Jones. Maybe its because we’re both fantastically wealthy and spend much of the year travelling the world. Or perhaps its because we have both been blessed with a powerful singing voice that compels women to hurl their underwear at us in appreciation. More probably though, it has something to do with both of us longing to touch the green, green grass of home.
I’m not quite as fussy as Tom though. My grass need not be of the “green green” variety. Simple green would be good enough for me.
We enjoyed an enchanting family holiday in Lanzarote a few years ago. Away from the strip, we marvelled at the almost lunar wildness of the terrain and remarked on the comparative dryness of the climate. It was only after returning home, though, whilst taking a short trip through county Meath, that we realised how much we missed the splendid greenery of Ireland, the rolling fields, hedgerows and trees that give this country the name of the Emerald Isle.
Grass is everywhere. The most common plant on the planet, it sprouts wherever there are reasonable amounts of precipitation and a thin scattering of soil. Take your car out beyond Clonee and it is everywhere, on roadsides, traffic islands, river banks. It is not a plant that really needs cultivating – it just appears by magic, as if to preserve earth’s modesty, clothing the bare soil in a fantastic dressing gown of rich green. So can somebody explain to me, why it refuses point blank to grow on my lawn?
Let me point out at this juncture that my fingers, unlike the aforementioned grass that I cannot grow, are very far from being green. I am not a natural gardener and the secrets of making compost and growing award-winning petunias have not been handed down through the generations of my family. Like many of the newer families in Dublin 15, I suspect, we moved out here from a much more centralised location, where housing was much more concentrated and consequently garden space was minimal or non-existent, as was horticultural expertise.
In our first house, the garden consisted of a window box on the kitchen windowsill, accessed via the back yard. As the children grew up, we realised it was not a particularly safe place for them to play, as they kept on falling out and landing in the shore beneath the window.
Our second home did, in fact, have a garden at the rear, approximately the same shape and dimensions as a postage stamp. I used to cut the lawn in five minutes with a pair of scissors. The children had to take it in turns to go out and play in it, as it wasn’t quite big enough to accommodate both of them simoultaneously.
Thus it was, on moving out here, to the wide-open prairie of Castaheany, that we looked forward immensely to a bit of lebensraum. We felt like settlers, hitching our horses to our wagons and setting out for the unknown, where land was cheap and plentiful and where a man could make a home for himself, yessirree!
Unfortunately, as I mentioned previously, it is one thing to have the luxury of space to make a garden. It is quite another to have the necessary skill to turn it into the idyllic rose-scented, colourful, balmy-summer-evening haven that we imagined when first we moved here. I am no gardener. I empathise completely with William Wordsworth in his famous poem, “The Tulips,” when he wrote:
“The tulips dance in sweet rapport,
Swaying lightly in the breeze,
A miracle of nature, for
I thought I’d sown a row of peas.”
I have no idea if my soil is acidic or alkaline, nor how to find out. I read books on gardening but still have no idea what mulch is. I buy plants with colourful labels in garden centres and, when I plant them, they turn brown and collapse, clutching their throats in agony. But I can accept this. Gardening is a mysterious subject, built on years of experience and trial and error. That is why television personalities like Diarmuid Gavin are so revered. Their trade is a noble one and only slowly learned.
But grass? Come on! It shouldn’t take centuries of primeval earth worship to be able to grow a bit of grass on your lawn. It grows everywhere, mostly in places that I don’t want it. In my flowerbed, for example, it has no problems snuggling up to an ailing hydrangea or trying to strangle a pitiful dahlia. I spend hours each summer, digging it up from around the viburnum tinus and pointing it in the direction of the lawn, to no avail.
Of course, I don’t want to give the impression that my lawn is a bare expanse of arid rock that would make Lawrence of Arabia feel at home. Au contaire, it has a rich greenness that contrasts very nicely with the brownness of the plants surrounding it. The problem is that the rich biodiversity that carpets the lawn so elegantly does not contain much grass.
We have clover in abundance, straggling gleefully across the lawn in a crazed dance. I am seriously thinking of going into the clover-harvesting business and applying for a grant from the EU. The large quantity of moss attests to the complete absence of rolling stones. I am thinking of digging up a few of the thistles and exhibiting them at next year’s Ploughing Championships. Dandelions, daisies, and even mushrooms, after a particularly wet spell, all thrive. There are even weeds that, if I stuck them in a pot and called them by their Latin names, would not look out of place in the Botanical Gardens. David Bellamy would drool with ecstasy at the abundance and variety of flora that inhabits our lawn.
But grass?
I have a theory that the builders deliberately planted grass killer when they sold us our houses. They carefully prepared the ground with tons of rubble, cement, broken drainpipes, yellow plastic, milk cartons and carefully selected boulders – all conducive to great gardening – before covering it all with a quarter of an inch of topsoil. Then they liberally applied grass killer in the place where the estimated you would want your lawn. It’s probably a builders’ joke. At their conventions, I expect they swap stories about it, while we poor innocents scratch our heads and wonder seriously about the practicalities of concreting the whole lot over. Which is exactly what a lot of householders are doing.
Benefitting from all these lawn conversions are of course the builders themselves, who, as part of the plan, have set up thriving cobble-lock businesses as a sideline, and giggle uncontrollably behind their cement mixers, when called into action. In years to come, there will probably be a tribunal about this, and I for one will have no problem spilling the beans. I’ll grass them up, no problem.

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