It is one of the few consolations of our long, dreary winter months that the lawnmower can stay firmly nestled in the shed, untouched, unloved and forgotten. Few things in life give me such perverse joy as unplugging the infernal thing for the final time in late September and returning it to its natural home beneath the gardening gloves, one welly and a host of partly-deflated footballs.
Grass, the experts tell us – (they have experts in grass?) – will not grow below 5°C. This is not through any design of nature. It simply refuses to do so and who can blame it? If I had no financial concerns, I too would willingly hibernate for six months of the year.
Unfortunately these days there may or may not be an entity called Global Warming, depending on which paper you read and whichever day you read it. These winters, we rarely get enough snow to build a snowman’s lower appendages and the mercury regularly creeps up above this magical 5°C mark between October and March.
One of my abiding principles in life, along with always changing your clothes after you have a bath, is to do nothing in the garden before April 1st, except maybe look at it from the kitchen window. The garden books all give us little jobs to do during the winter months like raking up leaves and preparing soil but I see no earthly point in any of it. Besides, its always raining.
This year, however, such was the mildness of the winter, that I contemplated breaking the rule of a lunchtime and lugging my old green pal out of the shed a whole month early. Actually, to my abject horror, one Saturday afternoon in January – yes January – I even heard the old familiar sound of a lawnmower engine in a nearby garden and I had to higher up Lionel Ritchie on the radio lest my wife heard it too and started getting ideas.
So, come mid-March, the grass was not yet out of hand but could certainly have done with a short back and sides. Two things stopped me. Every time I had a bit of spare time, it rained. (This happens a lot actually and I’m starting to get paranoid about it.) And we were going off on holiday on April 1st. If I could just reach that date, I could extend my non-grass-cutting hiatus by a further fortnight.
With a couple of days to go before we jetted off to what was a disappointingly chilly Orlando on our very early summer holidays, the heavens opened and I knew I was safe.
In line with our general holiday experiences, while we were donning sweatshirts and shivering in Downtown Disney (I have the photos to prove it), Ireland enjoyed one of those glorious fortnights that come only too rarely. The good citizens of this country should really have a whip round and send me away on holidays more often if they want to see some improvement in the meteorological situation. Evelyn Cusack would be able to explain to a gleeful public that “Peter Goulding is away on his holliers so a big H is coming in from the Atlantic and preparing to settle over Ireland.”
The fine weather, of course, allied to the previous showery weather, meant there was no need to ask mad Mary Mary Quite Contrary how her garden grew. Like wildfire, I think the answer was (how do cockleshells make a garden grow?) When we pulled up outside the house on our return, the dense foliage all but obscured our abode and it was only through checking our neighbour’s gardens, that we worked out through a process of elimination where our house should be.
We had actually left our two late teen offspring in the house in our absence but in the scramble to pack our t-shirts and shorts (ho! ho!), I had neglected to draw a map outlining the route from the kitchen door to the shed, so the grass had remained uncut.. Only it wasn’t just grass – nature had sought to reclaim what had once been hers and had really gone to town. There were shrubs and trees and dandelions as big as sunflowers and other exotic green things that looked decidedly tropical in nature.
I got away with it for about three days, claiming jet lag, which is really just a posh person’s way of saying “I couldn’t be arsed.” There was also so much to be done inside the house, I claimed, that we needed to prioritise the work. We can’t expect to get everything back in order immediately, I said, as my wife raised a disbelieving eyebrow.
For the next week or so, I would pull back the net curtains and peer despairingly at the vast expanse of blue sky. “Looks like rain,” I would mutter. I even dug out an old Community Voice article about a workshop in the Library where Monica Shannon and the great people of the Dublin 15 Environmental Group were asking people to “garden for wildlife” and let portions of their garden run wild to encourage a greater biodiversity.
What made matters worse is that in our absence, all our neighbours had taken advantage of the fine spell to diligently mow and trim their lawns so that our patch stuck out like the proverbial aching digit. Like the new proposed Eye and Ear Hospital, it was a site for sore eyes. I knew I had to tackle it eventually but I was still in holiday mode, I said. Just a few days more.
The leaflets started coming in through the door. Do you need your lawn mowed? they asked, obviously rhetorically. I wonder do the people who deliver these leaflets only post them into houses with scruffy gardens? The reason I ask is that they never seem to come when my grass has just been cut. I know it is time to wash my windows when somebody pushes a leaflet through my letterbox offering me a window cleaning service. Come to think of it, there’s no need for my wife to post a job list on the fridge – she can simply pile the flyers up on the hall table and I’ll work through them one by one.
The final straw came when I came home from work one evening and my wife recounted that she had seen a troop of Masai warriors, carrying an okapi on a long pole, emerging out of our back garden in single file. I sensed she was exaggerating slightly but when she is in one of her sarcastic moods, its best not to challenge her.
Still, I managed to achieve a new personal best by not cutting the grass until the last week in April. This will be the new benchmark for future years and when I see grown men struggling to turn Black and Deckers around impossible corners in February, I will sit my enthralled grandchildren on my knees and recount to them proudly how in the Spring of 2007 I nearly made it to May without cutting the grass.