Something strange is happening in my town. Glamorous mums are dropping off their children at school then disappearing. They are returning home, hours later, tired and sweaty, with smiles on their faces.
You don’t need to break your back growing unpronounceable plants to give it personality. A few choice pieces of random tat can give it an edge as well as some heart and soul.
Hello and welcome to this tour of the world’s saddest plants – a tough bunch who manage to survive in an inhospitable place called My House.
My fury has been so focused on dandelions, I’ve failed to notice another enemy creeping up behind me. Well, all over my house. It was only when ivy started growing across my bedroom window and my six-year-old son declared, “the house looks like it should have monkeys living in it”, I realised action was needed.
Since leaving London, I finally have a house with a real, actual garden. And while I’d love to revel in the grown-upness of it all, I also have two children. Who would prefer I turn it into something farmed from a Mr Tumble daydream.
As I child, I gently cared for the rotting corpse of a hedgehog. I’d found this incredibly cool ball of prickles in the middle of a pavement and, thinking it an odd place to hibernate, brought it home and carefully placed it in a bush.
Today something incredible happened. For a WHOLE HOUR the sun shone while the baby slept. On my day off. As it’s National Gardening Week, it was my duty to ignore the Cheerios glued to the kitchen floor and 450 Messenger notifications and grab my spade.
One of the things I found most off-putting about gardening was the language. From Gardeners’ Question Time on Radio 4 to plant labels, it seemed like total mumbo jumbo. So I thought I’d weed out some common terms and help fellow bad gardeners with the dialect.
I didn’t have much luck with boys when I was at school. But on my gardening course it’s a whole new story. Two lessons in and the boy sitting next to me has already given me flowers. Granted, the flowers were actually seeds. And the boy was 40 years older than me. But, hey, why get bogged down with details?
So this week I have been hanging out with GOOD gardeners on a grow-your-own course. Learning stuff about weird plants, angry ants, booze and poos.
Palm trees. The international symbol of the holiday. There are 2,500 species and some hardy ones will even put up with the UK in a pot. But palms are causing bother. Palm oil, made from African oil palms, is in half the stuff we buy, from shower gel to biscuits. So rainforests are being burned to make space for more of them. Bit head-screwy that us needing trees so we can eat biscuits is wrecking jungles and the planet. Silly humans.
I grew a thing! Let out an audible gasp when I spotted this courgette. Too scared to touch it in case it turns to dust. So, the female flowers produce the courgettes and the male flowers just sit about looking pretty. I should have been giving this plant a tomato feed once a week but I’ve been too busy trying to remember to feed the children. Sorry, old girl.
Although this Bad Gardeners’ Club business was meant to kick me into action in the garden, I won’t complain if my parents turn up and do stuff. Like buy £1.50 pink geraniums from the market and pop them outside my office window. (And mow the lawns...hang pictures... feed me coffee/wine...) My mum is hooked on C4 show A New Life In The Sun, and apparently all the French window boxes in it are filled with geraniums. She says they ‘thrive on neglect’, too. So ideal.
All action in my kitchen. So now I know the first two leaves that come up from a seed are called cotyledons (which would be a good name for a Transformer, I reckon) and they feed the little veggie seedling. They are followed by ‘true leaves’ - one is popping up in the centre - which do the proper photosynthesis stuff. When I’ve got two true leaves on my courgette plants they should be strong enough for putting (‘transplanting’) outside. If it ever stops raining, that is
My salad days are over. Well, my lettuce is done for, anyway. It got too hot and bothered on my windowsill and bolted, meaning it sent up a flower stalk in a panic and has gone to seed. So leaves taste grim. I should have planted it in a shady spot in my garden. But that would have required thoughts and actions. Chips, anyone?
Please, mister, can we have our ball back? Slight problem, it’s 15ft up, looking quite comfy on your leylandii. We’ve been meaning to sort this conifer out for years. It does a top job filtering out pollution and wind. And the neighbours are probably grateful it filters out noise. But under the High Hedges Act, they can kick off to the council if it is more than 2m tall and annoying. Which ours is (x2). Balls.
HA. HA. Stickyback. The plant prank that never grows old. It’s got loads of common names (sticky willy, goose grass, robin run the hedge) but this rampant weed is actually called cleavers. It transfers its seeds by cleverly clagging on to animals, birds and your victim’s jacket. So you have to give it some credit, really. It was once used by farmers to filter animal hair out of milk. Which is pretty cool. But I’d rather do this with it.
Weird tip and creepy fact from a wise gardener: to get rid of greenfly and blackfly on fruit trees and roses, chuck ant powder at the bottom. Clever ants farm those pesky aphids and suck their blood (like machines draining Keanu Reeves in The Matrix). So you need to get shot of them. It’s worked on this cherry tree and a load of rose bushes down here in Essex.