Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Things to Do in the Garden in March

The other day I was sitting on a stool in our kitchen, cleaning out the soles of my runners with a knife. Not the good, sharp knife that we use for cutting cheese, but an old one that we keep on the windowsill next to the cactus, the two useless salt and pepper sets (the holes are “too big” apparently) and the dish containing two screws, an elastic band and a small piece of metal that appeared one day on the kitchen floor.
This knife is our non-food knife and is used, more or less exclusively for cleaning the soles of runners.
Now, cleaning the dirt out of runners, as many parents will attest, is a long, boring and ultimately futile operation. Suffice to say, that the inventor of the runner sole cleaner will earn a fortune, and if I had a spark of initiative, I’d have solved this problem long ago and retired to the Seychelles.
And so it was, I was idly scooping the dirt out of groove number seventy nine on the left foot, when my eye was caught by the headline on the newspaper spread out beneath me. “Things to Do in the Garden in March,” it read.
I gave a wry smile. This was obviously some headline writer’s attempt at sarcasm. Everybody knows that once the lawn-mower gets packed away for the final time in late September, still enveloped in wet grass (– sure, it will just fall off by itself when you take it out again in the Spring –) the garden ceases to exist for the next six months. What on earth would any sane person be doing out in the garden in March, when the winds are howling and the sun packs all the heat of a Wibbly Wobbly Wonder?
But as I read further, it was evident that the author of the article was quite serious about all the work the keen gardener should be doing in March. Keen? ‘Barking’ would have been a more appropriate adjective, I’d have thought.
While I am at it, have you ever noticed that most ‘keen’ gardeners are old and bent with gnarled dry hands? Concrete proof, if any were needed, that excessive gardening is unhealthy.
Frankly, the only thing to do in the garden in March is to look out at it from the kitchen window and grimace. That empty plastic flowerpot that has been rattling around since the high winds in November is perfectly happy and is doing no harm to anyone. The slugs that sit contentedly inside it think it is a fairground ride.
That white plastic bag that somehow became impaled on your cotonaster on Christmas Eve is in fact adding a touch of colour to an otherwise drab vista. It is quite content to flap away merrily in the breeze until the slightly warmer month of April arrives and you can go out and retrieve it.
“March is the month when the experienced growers prune roses of the hybrid tea and floribunda types,” warbles the article. There is no mention of spending the next six weeks in bed with pneumonia. March is actually the month when sensible rose growers make a mental note to prune the damned things in April, or, better still, send somebody else out to do them.
“Prepare your lawn for the mowing season by brushing with a stiff broom,” the enthusiastic author continues. Personally the reason for lawn psychology escapes me. Will your grass go into trauma if you suddenly appear the week after Easter, Black and Decker in hand? Why do you need to prepare it? It’s grass, for God’s sake. Honestly, this environmentally friendly lark can be taken a bit far.
Apparently there is “no earthly reason” why hardy annuals should not be planted out in the latter half of the month. A wind chill factor of minus twenty five is obviously not an earthly reason. Nor is the fact that there’s a good Champions League match on the telly, or the rugby is on. Or its St. Patrick’s Day, and St. Patrick hated gardens? How about sheer laziness? Hardy annuals can wait until April, because frankly I’m still in winter mode, and know that I’m going to spend many back-breaking hours in the months ahead prising up obstinate weeds and spraying gleeful greenfly, and I’m going to put it all off as long as I possibly can. That’s quite an earthly reason, I reckon.
Of course, to assuage the guilt, you can always hop in the car and spend an hour or two wandering around Atlantic Homecare, examining yet-to-flower pots of foliage, and wondering if they will hold their own against your lavatera olbia. Of course, at this time of the year, every plant looks the same and you have little or no idea if the few straggling leaves in a pot really will grow up to be a cherry blossom tree, or if some mischievous six year old has gone around mixing up all the little plastic signs. Maybe it’s a nettle. You have no way of knowing. Better hold off until April when the first buds appear and the store’s gardening buyer starts to worry if he’s really going to shift a million hectares of primulas.
Of course, most of us in Dublin 15, particularly in the new estates, do not have gardens that warrant so much maintenance that we have to begin in March. Not for us the bed of snowdrops that sweeps down to the rock pool beside the greenhouse. We simply do not have the space for well-organised drills of vegetables that lead to a wicker gate opening out onto a woodland meadow with a bandstand in the middle.
No, we have our little rectangles of lawn, around which we have stuck an odd plant here and there. Any potential growing area for weeds has already been smothered in four inches of bark, which is due to be replenished in 2012. If you went out there in March, you’d have nothing to do in April or May.
Besides, isn’t wildlife gardening supposed to be the new thing? By moving away from the traditional well manicured lawn and pristine herbaceous border to a more unkempt woodland garden, we are in fact letting nature reclaim some of the land we have stolen from it for house-building. We are encouraging the restoration of a vanishing eco-system
That’s my excuse, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

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