It has not grown on me

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Growing to like gardening is somewhat of a struggle, writes Kate Oktay.

Kate Oktay
Kate Oktay
I would have liked to have been the sort of person who likes gardening. I always imagined I would like it. I had a romantic idea of me sitting in some kind of lush paradise while I casually pulled out baby carrots with a full face of make-up on.

It was not like that. It was more swearing and talking loudly about concreting everything.

When I lived in an apartment, I used to look out on the smog and a million other people and think about moving home to all the green. Unfortunately, I mistook missing nature for actually having to take care of it. We moved into a beautiful garden, and over the past three years have turned it into, in my father's words, "An absolute bloody pigsty". I have weeds I remember as foot-high things I looked down at and thought "I don't think those are the good ones", that are now trees. Who knew weeds grew into trees? Not me.

I have sixth-generation self-seeded fennel liberally peppering the lawn.

The saving grace, and actually the thing that makes our lack of gardening possible, is the front of our section; a bush-filled cliff that makes the backyard atrocity invisible from the road. We mow the grass biannually.

But, now we have new neighbours who decided to cut down trees to get a sea view. They may be partially regretting this, because, while the trees were blocking a view of the harbour, they were also blocking a view of the deadly nightshade forest that is our garden.

So now, feeling shamed but slightly belligerent, I am occasionally - sadly - trudging out to the garden to kick at the overgrown and creeping weeds.

My husband hates it even more than I do, and finds me personally responsible for the bad plants growing. We spend our two most hated days a year out there, hacking at the worst of the overgrowth. Two inside-people outside and unhappy, sniping passive-aggressively and effervescent with barely suppressed resentments. Ah, the times we have had!

When I first moved in I did start doing the garden. I hauled a toddler out there daily, who cried raggedly after the first 15 minutes, while I got splinters and a bad case of the angrys.

I did this for a year, until it became apparent that I was a terrible gardener. My spring onions looked like chives. I couldn't get potatoes to grow, when everyone can get potatoes to grow. Rocket grew up, spindly, and stunted, and flowered immediately without any leaves. One summer cured me of any reticent fantasies of being one of those people who visited other people with "things from the garden" in a cane hamper.

You can tell when I have been out there. I have SPF50 sunscreen on and usually dirt has stuck to it. Like a fine dusting of hate made visible. The sunscreen, of course, makes no difference and I am reddish and stinging, but about to switch straight back to whitish two days later. Sticks stuck in my hair and a weird itchy rash on my hands and neck. Like a mad witch. I detest it.

Luckily, my neighbours (at least the ones before the tree-cutters came along) have been remarkably understanding about the noxious weeds and dandelions sweeping over the fences and propagating on their properties. "These one you want to get out," one says helpfully, pointing at something I appear to have quite a lot of. "Hmmm," I say, unconvinced. "It has nice, white flowers though."

My husband is a proponent of what I call the "Mediterranean in Melbourne" look. There are two types. Type one originally hails from a village and has an abundance of foliage and armfuls of produce. Type two is from the crush of city apartments and sees no point in going outside unless you are on your way somewhere else. Type two has invariably tiled/concreted the entire property and has two mini-trees growing in large pots in what would have previously been called the front lawn. My husband is firmly in type two camp.

Any acquiescence I might have had with my husband's proposed Supermarket Carpark Landscaping Plan is unfortunately tempered by the thought of my neighbours gathering at the bottom of my driveway, wielding garden implements in a vaguely threatening manner. So now, I am considering planting the whole section in natives. I will pretend I am one of those people who really care about returning Aotearoa back to its original state. "Yes," I will tell people airily, "it's just so important for our endemic wildlife", while getting sanctimonious and unbearable in the way I always imagined I would with home-grown, organic vegetables.



Lombardy poplars on riverbanks of public parks. Wonderful, Appian Way looking, but, fie! They are exotic. Chop.

Sycamore, hawthorn, the witchery groves of old England. Chop.

Common Land. Commo land! Enclose.





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