Ah yes, gardening. I have a garden outside my house, full of plants which need tending to. Although I very much enjoy being in the garden, this feeling is reversed when I have to work in order to make it nice.
The garden I am now the owner of is, for the first time in my life, big enough and nice enough to actually make you want to spend time in it. This is possibly slightly uncharitable towards my last home, which had a 3 metre square yard in which my wife laid an extremely good-looking patio (I was indoors studying for an exam since you ask), but the point is that the new place is an altogether different scale and prospect. The old place was very nice, but somewhat limited by size. I have come a long way since the student house where we had to remove foot-tall wild grass by threshing it enthusiastically with a stick we found (and then throwing the stick across the road by mistake when “enthusiastic threshing” was combined with Steve’s less than adequate ability to grip things). I am now at the point where I feel the need to buy a pair of the green trousers favoured by gardeners (why? What are they hiding from?), and drink warm beer straight from a can and declare it “refreshing” while surveying the fruits of real horticultural endeavours.
The problem here is that I’m an “indoor-sports” kind of guy. That doesn’t mean gay (as far as I know), in case you’re wondering, it just means I am more comfortable inside. I have small, girlish hands from years wielding nothing more serious than a computer mouse and my skin has been weakened from nearly a decade of treatment under office strip lighting. And actually, I am surprised that so many people consider indoor chores to be “women’s work”. This view strikes me as ignorant, as well as factually incorrect, and crucially missing a chance to do something easier than working outdoors.
Take vacuum cleaning, for example. Here is a task which requires you to operate a machine, with a large motor (like a car). You are required to steer it around obstacles without hitting them (like a car). It comes with an instruction manual that you will not read before you start using it (like a car), and if your house has stairs in it, will require heavy lifting (um). Anyway, the same bigots who consider this women’s work will also surely concede that all of the above evidence suggests that the proper operator has a Y chromosome, no?
By the way, ladies: you are right, we don’t read manuals most of the time. It isn’t because we are arrogant wankers who think we’re smarter than James Dyson. It is because we like to experiment, and when presented with a new toy with buttons to press, there’s no fun in learning about them from a book – it’s much better to press a few and see what happens. It doesn’t matter if we get it wrong, that’s half the fun. The hoover isn’t going to combust if we press the “filter eject” button by mistake. It’s why chemistry lessons were more fun than English. Did your English teacher ever cause structural damage to the languages department building with a failed subjunctive? Didn’t think so.
So while hoovering has been conclusively proven to be man’s work, why then can I not get to grips with the lawnmower, which is basically a glorified grass vacuum cleaner? The answer to this question may be that the mower hates me, ever since I filled the petrol tank with engine oil (see, manuals are for chumps!). That would go some way to explaining why it spits pebbles at my ankles when I run over them (one can only imagine why the previous owners put a moat of loose stones around the edge of the lawn), or why the bastard weighs 90 kg and has to be stored at the top of 3 (loose) steps.
As a side note, one day when you have a lawn than needs mowing, you will find yourself briefly compelled to buy a Flymo. Your wife (who will certainly be there at this stage) will point out how clever it is with the immortal lines “it doesn’t need wheels”. She is half-correct. It does need wheels, it just doesn’t have them. Yes, fine, I know that it floats around like a hovercraft while you are cutting the lawn, but how do you get it back in the shed? You are faced with the choice of turning the shed floor into woodchip, or lugging the thing around in your arms, like an over-developed, angry, bright orange baby. Beware.
And the lawnmower is the only fun piece of kit in the garden, apart from the hose (note to self: spray more people with the hose). Everything else is down-on-your-knees dirty, rusty and horrid stuff. You spend the day hunched over a flowerbed hacking away with a giant pair of comedy scissors and a stupid fork, getting mud under your fingernails and a weird halo of sunburn where your old t-shirt doesn’t cover the back of your neck properly. It isn’t fun, is what I’m saying. And that isn’t even the worst bit – gardening is REALLY difficult.
I don’t mean that lifting heavy items and digging around in the ground is difficult (although it is), but gardening requires a level of knowledge and expertise that the average person is not endowed with. My wife will sometimes encourage me to go outside and dig up some weeds. I can dig up plants, but I am fucked if I know whether any of them are weeds. I asked my Mother-in-Law how one was supposed to spot a weed, and she coyly remarked that “a weed is just a plant in the wrong place.” Great advice, except that all the plants in my garden are growing in the ground or possibly a plant pot, which strikes me as the PERFECT place for a plant. And yet some are still undesirable. I suggested we adopt a survival of the fittest type of competition in the garden, where we leave the plants to fight it out amongst themselves for dominance (and then pitch it to ITV as the gripping new reality show), but my wife told me this wasn’t how it worked, and besides, it sounded suspiciously like a scheme concocted to escape gardening duty (correct).
So I can’t spot a weed in a flowerbed. The awful thing is that once you dig them up, they’re done. If you later find out that the plant should have been left in the ground, you can’t just put it back, these things are far too fragile for that. And plants are expensive btw. To this end, I often find myself paralysed with fear, and diagnosed with being lazy (incorrect).
What makes gardening so damn difficult is that it is ridiculously unscientific. I come from a chemistry background, an environment where you add X to Y and create Z. If you add X to Y with a bit of extra Y in the mix, the whole thing explodes and removes your face. So it pays to be precise. Then you go out to the garden, and the opposite seems to apply. This plant needs some water. Too little and it will die of thirst, too much and it will drown. So how much is the right amount? Some. That’s it. You just get a feel for the right treatment. You need to plant this in a hole that is big/small. Not 6.5cm in diameter, that would be much too useful information, just, I don’t know, the size of a small child’s fist? Something like that maybe? Can you imagine the outcome if the guy making your paracetamol tablets was this relaxed about the production method? There’d be a lot of people with continuing headaches, and just as many accidental overdoses.
But what kills me is that (for other people), this approach WORKS. If I add exactly 0.48 litres of water to a plant pot, the inhabitant will still die from a slug infestation or something, but if Alan Titchmarsh throws a handful of seeds at a wall with his eyes clpsed, somehow some of them will stick and grow into something amazing and beautiful and I will hate him even more than I already do.
Final note: just in case my wife ever reads this (and frankly even if she doesn’t), I’d like to make a few things clear:
- Yes she did lay a patio without much help from me at all. I was inside buried under some books. I would have loved to swap places with her, but then neither job would have got done.
- She has never suggested we buy a flymo (thank GOD!)
- She does occasionally “encourage” me to do some gardening. As annoying as this is, it does need doing, and I don’t have any exams left to get me out of it. And sitting on the sofa while she works seems awfully cheap.