Tag Archive: gardens


Gardener Set Free by an mp3

Rob with his imaginary hound.

Robert is working on the top perennial border, maybe 15 yards away but on the other side of a hawthorn hedge. Earlier we had trimmed the hedge, Robert swirled the hedgetrimmer as if it was a light sabre, thrashing blades moulded the hedge into shape. We are tarting up the top border in a full blooded attempt to impress our new clients.

‘How are you getting on with the weeding up there Rob?’

Silence, followed by scuffling noises and a slight clearing of his throat.

I wait for him to say something. Nada.

Louder this time, ‘Rob! We need to be moving onto the mowing soon. Have you nearly finished?’

He is obviously working, his yellow gorilla bucket is being scutched over the ground, he kicks it a little and I hear him ‘twickling’ the soil with his fork. Twickling is our top secret ploy to make our borders stand out from the rest. Obviously I can’t give away the trade secret but it is vital to get the correct depth into the soil before twickling commences. Too deep and it looks like a turned veggie bed, too shallow and it looks bobbly, scratched and scruffy. There is also the sideways ‘clod slap’ that is vital for an even finish. No point taking these terms, ‘twickling’ and ‘clod slap,’ to the RHS for clarification, they are copyrighted to http://www.topgrowth.co.uk and available for hire purchase if anyone is dopey enough to ask.

Because Rob still doesn’t answer me I decide to walk up the steps to the top border and check on what he is doing. Often these kind of silences mean one of the lads is having a fag, or texting the girlfriend and doesn’t want to be disturbed. Normally they skulk off behind a building or into the bushes. They know I don’t like them using mobile phones on the job, and smoking is almost a hanging offence unless they are on a break.

SAS style I quietly step up and have my eyes on alert as they come level with the top border. I look across to where he is working then stand still to watch. He is twickling away undeniably content. In fact he is working furiously, twickle – clod slap, clod slap (try to say that when you have quaffed a few G&Ts) – twickle, twickle – clod slap – bend down pick up some weeds…repeat process. I notice that he isn’t wearing his gloves either. Strange. Rob has always worn his gloves, indeed insisted that he wear them.

Buddha happy

I love this guy. He is with us every day 🙂

Only last week we had the following conversation.

‘John, I have to wear my gloves. The girlfriend doesn’t like me to have rough skin and muck in my nails.’

‘How many times do I have to tell you that you can’t feel smaller weeds with gloves on Rob? If the ground is really bad, use the gloves, otherwise don’t wear them. The more you feel the weeds and plants, the better
gardener you will become.’

Grinning at me. ‘OK John. Whatever you say. I will not wear the gloves to weed after today, me and Mandy are going to have dinner at her parent’s place tonight.’ He always grins at me when he wants his own way. I know he will still wear his gloves the next day.

Rob is the sort of lad who comes to work in khaki Chinos, a Wrangler shirt and a pair of weird boots with no laces. He never passes the van mirror without taking a look at himself and preening. He loves to be around the gardens, is extremely pleasant and polite but doesn’t understand the work ethic. If he is left on his own he will take it easy. Whenever I go off somewhere he applies, ‘out-of- sight, time-for-a-fag’ policy

So what the heck has changed today? He still hasn’t seen me, so I sit on one of the steps and observe him through the sparse leaves of a hydrangea bush.

He finishes twickling, and moves his gorilla bucket to another part of the border. Squats on his heels and begins to weed. I notice that he is working very carefully, not missing a weed and knocking off the excess soil before tossing it into the bin. I feel a surge of pleasure because in the past he has barely bothered to knock excess dirt off and we have constantly had discussions about how the garden is going to disappear in a few years if he doesn’t put most of the soil back.

WTF is he doing now? I chuckle to myself, how bizarre.

Rob is playing air guitar as he kneels and bobbing his head like he is in a mosh pit. Still he works on. He pulls out some larger weeds and taps out a rhythm on the side of the bin … tosses them in … fishes them out again and inspects the tiny blue flowers, probing with his fingertips. Taps them several times more on the rim of the bucket before lobbing them. I also notice his lips are moving and I can hear a strange tone deaf mumble with accompanying head waggle. A kind of cross between Buddhist mantra and an impression of a chainsaw.

Intrigued I decide not to disturb him. For a while he works away then suddenly jumps up, takes the garden fork and uses it to play air guitar again, but more vigorously. At this I just can’t stop myself any longer and burst into a honking belly laugh, but he doesn’t hear me. His right foot is stomping and he uses the handle of the fork as a fret. Oh my goodness. I hoot out loud.

He does a twirl raises his imaginary guitar up above his head with both arms and then sweeps it down to the ground, embedding the tines in the lawn up to the hilt. His body is bowed at the waist, he holds this posture for a few moments clearly spent before straightening up slowly, hands hang limply by his side, head still bent downward resting on his chest.

Rob raises his head, slowly lifts his eyes to the sky, and then the horror strikes him full force. His body becomes rigid and his eyes pop out of the sockets on stalks as he notices me sitting on the step. In an instant colour flushes right up through his cheeks, his baby blue eyes are sparkling and he grins in embarrassment. We both start to laugh, it’s infectious and establishes a more friendly atmosphere for him to put down an explanation.

He flicks something out of his right ear and says. ‘Oh shoot John. I am really sorry but it was one of my favourite tunes and I couldn’t stop myself. Sorry if I have made a fool of myself.’

He adds. ‘I was doing such a good job on the border, come over here and let me show you. I reckon you will be chuffed to bits.’

I shake my head and walk over to him. There is an earpiece dangling over his shoulder and another lodged in his left ear. The cables are stuffed inside his sweater, a slight bulge where his shirt pocket sits.

My primary instinct is to tell him off for time wasting. However, to be fair, when I look at what he has achieved it is nigh on amazing compared to what he normally accomplishes. Not only has he done a very good job, it is one that we can both be proud of, and I tell him so.

‘Great work Bonzo. You have excelled yourself there.’

Rob smiles easily. ‘It was like you said the other day, I got into the groove and things started to flow. You are right, when the juice starts to flow everything is easy and feels balanced. I took off the gloves because I could feel what I was doing, it all just came together like magic.’

He adds, ‘I kind of zoned out. It was like I wasn’t here, but I was, you know what I mean? I needed to touch the soil and the garden, it was sort of percolating into me and I just understood it all so well.’

His eyebrows arch. ‘If I didn’t know different I would have said I was stoned. Jya know what I’m on about John?’

‘I know what you are on about lad. I know.’

‘At the same time I was right into my music. Everything was crystal clear.’ He stops to consider the magnitude of it all.

He explains what an mp3 player is and how the tunes can be downloaded from the internet. Not only that he says that he has hundreds of tunes stored on his device, so seldom gets bored with the songs. He also insists that listening makes him happier and that he enjoys his work more.
How can I argue with that?

As we stand there I am aware of a strange susurration, rather like the noise coming from a freely rotating wheel on an upturned bike. I ask him if he can hear it. He listens, head cocked to one side and says. ‘No. Can’t hear owt strange John. Where is it coming from?’

I can’t pinpoint the noise, it is random. Now it has stopped. We walk back to the van to get the mowing gear out. I keep hearing the noises, but Rob seems unperturbed. I ponder tinnitus, I know my Uncle Ken suffers from the condition and complains of a ringing in his ears. Perhaps I have a dose.

Rob gets a strimmer out of the van and puts it on the floor, I take a fuel can and as I bend down to fill the stimmer I realise the noise is coming from his earpieces, the music is obviously still playing. I am tempted to ask him for a listen, but the thought of shoving his earpieces into my ears prevents that thought verbalising.

He asks if he can continue to use the mp3. I am unsure but can’t fathom a reason to refuse. This day is to be an epiphany for Rob, and an ear opener for me.

In future days he worked wonderfully well as long as he was submersed in House, Garage, Trance, Dance, Hip Hop and a crazy bunch of other tunes that are alien to me, but nectar to the essence of Rob. He became a wonderful gardener and has now set up on his own.

It takes all sorts, but if you find a peaceful way forward, embrace it because it may be the precious jewel that propels you on to greater achievement and lasting happiness.

John

PostScript – shortly after this event Rob encouraged and convinced me to get an mp3 player, a tiddly ipod shuffle (in pink!!). I now look forward to using my mp3 when I am working alone. I can listen for hours ensconced in dual pleasure domes, gardening and Nicole Scherzinger. What more can a bloke ask for?

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Garden or Zoo

It certainly looks like an elephant’s leg. It may feel like an elephant’s leg, and in my mind this large beech tree could well be an elephant’s leg.

Following these random thoughts I decide to relax for a while and sit in the dry leaves with my back against the impressive trunk (no pun intended). I gaze up into the bare branches and, rather like Alice, disappear down a rabbit hole in my mind.

We visit many properties during our working year. On all we apply the same degree of skill and effort to create something that will meet the approval of our clients. However, some gardens are happier places to work in than others. As I ponder the elephant’s leg conundrum the idea that some gardens are less than happy places to work in begins to disturb me, so I decide to delve a little deeper.

In order to fathom the thought I order some of my gardens into ‘happy’ ‘just so’ and ‘this won’t do’ categories. The ‘happy’ gardens are ones where I often relate more closely with the client, but more importantly they are gardens where I can get in and scrimmage around. On warm dry days it is almost like going for a day out with close friends. I don’t talk to the plants like Prince Charles, but I do empathise with their situation. Being a touchy/feely sort of gardener I allow my instincts and powers of observation to notice when a plant looks distressed. My gardens dictate to me, and I listen. These places are proper gardens to me because I can experience the flow and get in sync with the garden holistically. They thrive and blossom, as long as they are fed a well balanced diet and adequate moisture. They are full of insects, birds and small invertebrates. These thoughts have the Bambi effect in my mind, Disneyesque butterflies and singing bluebirds…stop it.

The other category is more unsettling for my curious mind. It becomes clearer as I consider why. Invariably mankind seems determined to live on the edge of perpetual disaster. Many want to mould and manipulate things to suit their needs or to garner profit. Clearly we all need to survive to perpetuate the species, but at what cost?

Gardens in the ‘just so’ category are the ones where my clients want me to dominate the plants, to structure their gardens and make every blade of grass and flower look perfect, last longer and grow in the classic manner. In other words they want me to control the situation and force the plants to grow in violation of a natural law. Let’s face it, a privet tree is not long and rectangular, a willow leaf pear is not naturally a toffee apple shape. Indeed a willow leafed pear, allowed to grow to maturity, is a magnificent specimen with gorgeous silver leaves that drape down to the ground and produce lovely fruit, so why is it fashionable to trim it? Topiary is admirable in a strange way, but I avoid trimming as much as possible. Pruning for health seems far more appropriate to me.

Sometimes in these gardens we feel as if we never notice the beauty because we are too busy trying to create it.

The latter category ‘this won’t do’ is easier to understand. On occasion I have had disagreement with clients over what they expect from us. These people are the ultimate control freaks and expect the rest of the world to tug on fetlocks far too much. I have boundaries where I refuse to cross in the care of a garden. I also have boundaries with the way I want clients to treat my employees. The process is simple. ‘Thanks for giving us the opportunity to work on your garden, but we have far more important jobs to attend to. Sayonara.’ I never feel sad about losing one of these projects.

This brings me to a conclusion.

In the comfy rabbit hole of my mind I realise, of course, that natural is best. Nature will assert itself with just a little help from me, and hopefully have a very contented existence under my care.

The second option, also acceptable but definitely my second choice, is that ‘just so’ is actually a Zoo for plants. Plants in the ‘just so’ properties are put in confined spaces, are not allowed to mingle, are force fed diets of chemicals, are expected to hold tricky postures like a street artist in Barcelona. They are confined indoors for winter, starved or force fed to allow flowering at inappropriate times and have to endure haircuts once or twice a week, never to reproduce. Plants have their young taken from them (seeds) and distributed to other parts of the world, put up for adoption.

However, the true Zoo analogy relates to the attitude of the garden owner. In an animal zoo we wander around on paths, look at the creatures in cages or occasionally in safari type reconstructions. Yet we aren’t allowed to go and touch unless it is a petting zoo. We all love to see the exotic creatures, just as we love to see exotic flowers and plants. ‘just so’ owners want their gardens to be artificial so that they can gaze on contentedly and know that their regime has been imposed on the plants. They offer raised eyebrows when asked simple questions such as. ‘Do your plants enjoy being overcrowded?’ ‘Would your plants prefer to live in a sunny climate?’ ‘Do you overfeed your children so that they can win awards?’

Are these ‘just so’ garden plants happy? Is it appropriate to create garden Zoos for our own titillation?

My phone will be running hot now with clients who think that they may be one of the ‘just so’ gardens. Don’t worry folks, this was just a dream as I rested comfortably against the huge leg of an elephant, and gazed up into a large squirrel hole.

Cats in the Cradle

Right from the off let’s state that some people are going to become marginally hacked off with me for writing this blog, but it kind of follows in my theme, we have an ongoing battle with critters that nibble, dig up or squash stuff in our gardens. Perhaps this posting would have occurred later on however, I have things on the brain regarding Bob, and need to unload. Bob is our cat here in Grange, along with his many cat mates they are the scourge of this garden. However, the main emphasis is about ‘critters’ of all kinds who take up residence in our contract gardens.

Bob the Cat in full summer sleep mode

It may be helpful to itemise the critters that cause damage in some gardens. Of course the type of critters in our gardens are likely to be affected by our rural aspect in the English Lake District. Potentially folk who possess a rooftop garden in Soho are unlikely to have their roses ravaged by red deer.

Garden Critters in order of nuisance value:-

  • Rabbits
  • Deer
  • Moles
  • Rodents
  • Badgers
  • Sheep, yes Sheep!
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Squirrels
  • Birds
  • Snakes

Rabbits

Very tricky blighters. They dig and eat their way through a garden with devastating speed.

We look after several properties that are used for holiday letting. There is nothing more discouraging than turning up to mow a lawn and find carrots covered in chomp marks strewn across the lawn. Beatrix Potter created Peter Rabbit, but she didn’t tell the tourists to feed them. Surely the tourists can see the rabbits demolishing our flower beds.

What to do?

Exclude them. At least with rabbits the wire netting isn’t as substantial, the rabbits do have a fair set of gnashers though and are capable of chewing through chicken wire which has a more open mesh. Eventually they may dig under the wire so it is a good idea to peg it down. Good luck you will need it.

Deer

Without a shadow of doubt, are the toughest problem for us to deal with. The area is awash with roe and red deer that roam throughout the woods, spill down from the hills and traverse the gardens mostly during the night. As they travel they browse, nipping off shoots and buds without much other damage. The Lake District has both roe and red deer, in the main we are troubled by roe deer. In some respects this is a bonus because the roe deer are lazier than the red and don’t reach up on their hind legs, so they only browse the low growing plants.

During Winter they are at their most pernicious, they become hungry due to reduced food in the woods and find our gardens full of succulent plants and emerging new shoots are irresistible. For a family of deer it must be like an episode of the Great British Nibble Off as they ghost through, snacking on whatever takes their fancy, unfortunately lots of plants take their fancy.

One previously magnificent garden is particularly prone to damage. Sadly on this garden there is no means of exclusion because it is totally open. We can identify two areas that the deer rest, one aucuba hedge has a virtual tunnel down one side with shedloads of pungent droppings where they have scoffed their way in. Earlier this year we reduced the hedge considerably and wonder how the deer find reduced rations…ha…take that!

The most disheartening sights are roses after a deer foray. One of my favourite jobs is shrub and standard rose pruning, it is a skill that few possess, the results can be spectacular. Less spectacular are the amateur attempts by a family of deer. They seem to wait until the buds are just about to burst and then they launch a pruning assault. The roses are left looking like some drunk has walked through the bed after a night out, grabbed clumps of the delicate shoots and hacked them off with a butter knife.

What to do? The only foolproof way is to exclude them, and this can be costly. For red deer the fence needs to be 2 metres (about 6′ in old money) high so that they won’t jump over. Without exclusion some proprietary treatments are available, commercial crops are sprayed to deter the deer, and can be bought in smaller quantities for garden use. We have tried several times, and I believe it does work. Spraying needs to be done in dry conditions, and new growth, after the spray has been applied, is likely to be snaffled if left untreated.

Moles

Sometimes when a mole moves into a garden it can seem interesting, afterall it isn’t every day that you get a crazy creature in your garden that lives most of it’s life underground. Let me tell you, if you get troubled by moles you will struggle to evict them without resorting to drastic and nasty means. I read a blog the other day that suggested placing a bamboo cane in the ground with a cd inserted plus a piece of string with a cd tied to the string. Theory being the cds would clack around, the wind would wiggle the cane and the whole lot would create enough vibration to deter the moles. Hmmm…I have my doubts. In fact I think it would just look downright stupid and be nothing more than a talking point for your neighbours.

We use mowers with heavy metal rollers, and these can have an effect on moles that are living under the lawn. In the main I think it is best to thank the moles for creating a place where you can collect wonderful soil, take the pile of loose soil and distribute it around your garden.

It is also quite a novelty to walk on a heavily infested moled up area, can feel like walking on a garden feather bed. Go for a mole spike that is supposed to deter them with sonic booms and vibrations, but in the end the only way to remove a mole is to catch it and take it for a holiday to the other side of town. Good luck.

Rodents

Mice and rats are such quick and secretive animals that seeing them at their work is unusual. The main problem for us is the way they will scuttle out of the dry stone walls, nibble various plants and dig up and chew through some bulbs. Things like euonymous are particularly prone to attack. We don’t mind them in the garden so much, the damage they inflict can be minimal. Only other area that they can become troublesome is in a compost heap where food scraps are added. We discourage people from adding food scraps to an open compost bin for this reason, if they can find a safe place to breed they will use these food scraps to proliferate rapidly.

Badgers

We have badgers in and around most gardens. They do little damage apart from leaving snuffle marks in lawns from time to time. The only other problem is the way they will force a way under a mesh fence to travel across a property. Badgers are ok for us.

Sheep

Talk to the farmer quick. Sheep usually arrive in our gardens after escaping from a field where a gate has been left open, they do scale walls and will chew a way through thin hedges, so it is a problem that needs to be addressed by the owner. In a garden they can be totally destructive in a short space of time. Even a lamb is a powerful animal, they destroy retaining walls, pull up plants and irreversibly damage anything they get their jaws around. Ever tried catching a lamb? We have run around to the point of exhaustion in a vain attempt to get them through a gap in hedges. No wonder a farmer needs a sheepdog. Pray that sheep don’t get into your garden, it could be terminal.

Cats

Bob helping sedums to spread out!

These beasts are lovely pets for some, but for us gardeners they can become dirt terrorists. It is easy to become upset with them, and it is down to their toilet habits. Cats are fastidious, clean themselves for hours on end and mince around as if they are walking in stiletto heels. They are full of character and will sit fascinated by us working for ages. But they are just too fussy when it comes to going to the loo.

Invariably when we dig over a bed or dress a bed with composted bark the cats will run around the neighbourhood, screetching…PARTY TIME. Of course they bury their waste. We walk in it unknowingly, but worst of all, the absolute pits is when we are weeding and uncover a mound.

Oh how we dislike cats in the garden.

What to do? Curse and shrug, hope the owner converts the feline to a house cat.

Dogs

Companionable, friendly, intelligent but most of all playful. Dog fouling isn’t the same problem as it used to be with public awareness heightened in recent years. We seldom find dog waste any more. Their downfall is how playful they are. Owners understandably play with their dogs and in the process frequently cause damage to the gardens. One absolutely lovely dog comes to see us within 10 minutes of arriving, she runs up to us with a huge grin on her face then proceeds to tear up around the garden, muck and plants are skittered all over the place. No solution, mention it to client to deter any accusing finger then grit teeth and smile.

Squirrels

Conflict of interests in the Lake District between the Grey and the Red. Squirrels occasionally dig up things, bury things and hide things in awkward places, but they aren’t responsible for serious damage in the garden. They will chow down heavily on the bird feeders and are powerful enough to can-open mesh on peanut feeders. Solution is to get a squirrel proof feeder. Simples.

Birds

We love birds, and can forgive them all their misdemeanours. They are troublesome for fruit and veggie gardeners, but we are ornamental gareners in the main and the birds can share in the fruits of our labours any time they like

Snakes

Grass snakes and Adders are occasionally discovered in the larger gardens, Grass snakes more frequently than Adders. They don’t do any damage to the plants, it is the surprise factor to our cardiovascular systems when we discover one that is the danger. Taking the cover off some compost bins has uncovered a few big boys and they are scary every time. One lad was standing on top of a compost bin squashing down the waste when a huge snake slithered out from the corner and over the edge, I heard his yelping for ages. Needless to say we left the bin alone after that in case the snake was breeding, eventually we plucked up enough courage to filter through it and thankfully found nothing.

We live quite comfortably with all the critters, and we love to see them in the gardens, but the cats and dogs cause us to suffer the most and we can’t do much about it.

Ho hum