Why I hate gardening…
My father was an eager and accomplished gardener. He had what are referred to as green fingers, and being Irish, he also had a plan for his sons to work the land. When he came to England, he bought a house with the biggest garden he could find, and back then when there was plenty of space, it turned out to be a bloody huge garden.
Now, whilst he enjoyed gardening, his ideal was an army of sons working the soil while he sat back in a deck chair, Guinness in hand, directing his labour-force. So he set about breeding, obviously with some assistance from my mother.
When his first born – my eldest sister – emerged kicking and screaming into the world, he was not impressed. He was never a man to suffer fools gladly, and this foolish baby was the wrong sex. Still, he figured that maybe a daughter wasn’t all bad; she could clean and cook the vegetables grown by the masses of male children just waiting in his scrotum.
With every subsequent daughter, he grew increasingly angry. Soon the house was filled with daughters, and they had one more crack at the son required to work the soil. I would have thought that given such anticipation, my father would have been deleriously happy when I was born, but he was actually furious. My lateness was an issue with him, and despite being born nearly three months premature, he wasn’t cutting me any slack. As I was so premature, the hospital did suggest that I might be a frail and sickly specimen, which really annoyed him.
My earliest memories were of punishment; that was what the garden represented. Any misdemeanour resulted in being sentenced to gardening duty. I’d toil all day until my hands were alive with blood blisters, and then he would inspect my work. He’d declare it unsuitable, and I’d end the day mowing the lawn as an extra punishment. We had lovely lawns as a result.
In a sinister twist, he decided upon a plan that had echoes of Pol Pot’s Year Zero ideology. He presented me with a pair of pyjamas with his face stencilled on them, and I had to attend “re-education” lectures. These amounted to him telling me that he was an excellent father, and I was a lazy and ungrateful son. Once the lecture was over, I was sent out to toil in the veg patch – the killing patch I would have called it, if I’d had any concept of Khymer attrocities.
He constantly repeated that a man who could garden was closer to God and would never go hungry. Also, a man with neat lawns would go far in society. However, a hatred of gardening would lead to a life of crime, inevitably leading to decades spent behind bars, furiously masturbating.
Then, one day, he summoned me to the garage. He held a trial. He banged a club hammer on his Black and Decker Workmate to signify the opening of proceedings, and then placed upon his head a judge’s wig fashioned from twine and the family’s hamsters. (I’ll explain some other time how our house came to be knee-deep in hamsters.)
I was found guilty of being a worthless and lazy son, and was sentenced to gardening duty for the full Summer Holidays. This went on every year until eventually, aged 16, I escaped.
I found a bedsit above a launderette. It had no garden. I was free at last!
I spent much of my life since then avoiding properties with gardens. I was doing well, very well, until I met my other half. She wanted a house, not a flat, so I bought one. It had a garden attached, and seemingly there as nothing I could do to persuade her that it was a nest of evil.
I ignored it, to the point that one day she decreed that a gardener was in order. Knowing that gardeners were evil and twisted sickos, I refused, pointing out that if anyone would do my garden it would be me. Then I ignored it again.
Eventually I sold her a plan that included decking, gravel and paved areas. Once it was done (and I don’t mind construction one bit), I would have killed the garden. It was agreed. Then something bad happened.
I love cooking, and am an avid consumer of cookbooks. My focus is meat, but as my meat dishes have evolved, the vegetables are often too bland. When Nigel Slater published Tender, I went for it; a cookbook dedicated to vegetables seemed a good move. However, the publisher irresponsibly negated to include a warning that much of the book refers to gardening.
I was on a mission to get some fresh veg to try out one of the recipes, so I ended up in a local farm shop. The produce was, quite frankly, crap. Everything was old, stale and unappealing. There were rotting onions, wilted greens and imported herbs. (Occasionally Yours in Lingfield, be very ashamed of calling yourself a farm shop.)
Frustrated, I headed off to another so-called farm shop. It was better, but not by much, so I opted to go to Sainsburys. As I left I saw a magazine rack. Hoping for a motoring mag or a bit of porn, I perused the contents. There was a Chicken Husbandry magazine, and some rag entitled Grow Your Own. I don’t know why, but I purchased the latter.
Later that day, sat at my kitchen table with a beer in hand, I had an epiphany. I would not kill my garden; I would turn it into a Garden of Eden, but filled with vegetables (okay, if some nudey bird wants to live out there I can see my way to letting that go, but her old man can take a hike, or at least put some pants on).
So here I sit, at the dawn of an adventure. I haven’t a clue what I’m doing, but I figured that if cave men didn’t need Alan Titchmarsh, given that the human race is still here today, then I might not need him either (although if you are in the area, Al, feel free to do some work for me).