They say there’s a thin girl living in every fat girl’s body. In me, however, what is deeply, shamefully hidden, is the dream of being a competent gardener. Gardeners, especially if you ask the average British person, are the epitome of all that is good. During their mild summer evenings and long weekends, they can be found pottering around in their little green patch, outfitted with a charming, wide-brimmed straw hat, a pair of gardening gloves and a flowery apron. They will hum as happily as solitary bumblebees and smile as warmly as sun-kissed daisies. Come Monday, they will exchange said outfit for a dark three-piece suit and start a long commute to their office. Fortunately, work will be little more than a blissful space where they can meet fellow enthusiasts. No tea-break will go by without an animated conversation on the state of their darling hydrangeas or the fertility of their cherry trees, and advice will be swapped on the best fertilizers or the recipes to get rid of pests. Gardeners are even-tempered, and tend to take things calmly, whether rain or sunshine. They are industrious, gentle creators, basking in the love of their vegetal offspring. Such a communion comes naturally. Or does it?
It would certainly appear that way – perhaps because what no one likes to talk about are the black sheep of the talented gardening family. Although, in all honesty, a single good look around would reveal that they are legion. The ones who, despite their best intentions, make a right big mess of it, time after time. The ones who weep in the shadows, wondering why their fairy godmothers could not award them at least one green thumb. The clumsy, the careless, and the downright criminal. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it. I myself belong to this dark side and so may have the questionable pleasure of introducing my blighted relatives to you, one by one.
First, there is the lazy gardener. This distant cousin of the good gardener enjoys having a green oasis, yet would prefer to get no mud on his well-manicured hands, or let even one droplet of sweat mar his smooth brow. The lazy gardener could, of course, employ someone to do his dirty work for him, yet more often than not the solution to the problem seems to lie closer to home. If you ask for his secret, he might advise you to produce a few infants, pray fervently that they grow up at an alarming rate, and then start bribing them with candy in exchange for mowing the lawn and pruning your plants. Small children adore dirt anyway, and in order to develop social skills, what better playmates than a few bugs and twitching worms? Exercise is also necessary, and carrying big heavy water pots will serve to develop those tiny muscles. It’s a win-win situation, and his children will thank him for it later.
Equally reluctant to don the gloves and pick up the shears and shovels is the laid-back gardener. She will look out her window to the wilderness that used to be a neat little garden and now abounds with rodents of all size and shapes, birds ranging from shy sparrows to plump pigeons, and all manner of other creatures, and grin indulgently. The uncut grass will grow to savanna-like proportions, and foxes will twitch in outrage and take offence at the merest suggestion that the wall is not theirs to patrol day and night, or the ground theirs to burrow in. The small stone fountain will be chipped and full of cobwebs, but the lively robin will still love to bathe in it, wings a-flutter, after a good rainfall. The rosemary bush may be something out of a witch’s tale, crawling with spiders, but that’s all part of the derelict charm. The laid-back gardener will glance on it all and find it good.
Last but not least comes the worst of the lot – the garden killer. This specimen need only look at a plant with an ounce of interest, to ensure its speedy and certain demise. The garden killer means well, yet somehow manages to achieve disastrous results. His are all the dreary empty pots of flowers on the concrete balcony, cruel reminders of the relentless heat of summer and the unexplainable withering that followed. His is the incriminating, empty patch of scorched earth on the lawn. That patch that never fully recovered after he thought it might be a great idea to grill directly on the grass. Also his are the nervous-looking thin blades of grass emerging from said bald spot, after desperate attempts involving countless packets of seeds and sprinklings of purified water. His are the shriveled roots, the fly-ridden stalks, and the yellowing leaves. His is the hope that never dies.
So there you have it then – the delinquents of the gardening community. They are the ones whose clumsiness hangs to their fingertips as firmly as burrs to a sheep’s tail. They are the secretive ones, whose love of plants never dares speak its name. Yet this need not be so. Speak up, my brothers and sisters. Raise your chins high, and wear your names as a badge of honour. For every Lord Vishnu the Creator, there must be a Shiva the Destroyer. For every spot of light, there must be one of darkness. And for every one of them, there are a thousand of us.