April – July 2020 | Newton Abbot, Devon
The first thing I need to say is this: I am no gardener. I learned many things about living in a 10th floor flat in a tower block in south London for 22 years but gardening, alas, was not one of them.
Moving back to Devon did not help much, as my town-centre house had a back yard that was very nice but basically a patio with a dozen or so pot plants.
By 2017 I was old enough to move out to the suburbs and was presented with a garden whose size was in inverse proportion to my ability to improve. Despite that I developed ambitions well beyond what my my spare time and financial means would allow. That and the fact that I am a private tenant, which effectively rendered any thought of making even modest changes largely futile and probably frowned upon.
Lockdown in March 2020 changed all that. By the beginning of April I decided that lockdown was going to last a lot longer than many thought in those early days. So finding the time was no longer going to be a problem. Being housebound it was difficult to avoid not only seeing the garden but spending an inordinate amount of time gazing at it. When you spend so much time looking at something any flaws it may have not only reveal themselves but over time become more obvious – and annoying. Annoying enough to want to do something about it.
The weather didn’t help; or helped, depending on how you look at it. The first month or so of lockdown were so gloriously warm, sunny and calm that I felt compelled to do something us Brits rarely get a chance to do: move out into the garden to eat, lounge, read books and drink coffee or gin, depending on the time of day. Hell, I could even watch Netflix out there thanks to my 12.9″ iPad Pro!
The garden, it turns out, is a very versatile room. It did not take me long to go all Cote d’Azur and pretend I was French. Which I did. And I enjoyed it. The only trouble is, everywhere I looked and from whichever vantage point – the garden bench, the patio table and chairs or the garden settee, the garden was nagging back at me. A dozen or so characters were shouting for attention: the prickly red-berry thing, the messy corner with the overgrown bay tree, the jungle that almost completely covered the old shed, the low-hanging red bushy something-or-other – and the pond. I did say I wasn’t a gardener didn’t I?
The pond. THE POND! This was really shouting at me and became so clamorous I had to move indoors to play Led Zeppelin II for a bit of peace and quiet. Now this really was a shambles – and was in the wrong place (not Led Zep; the pond). There was nothing I could do about relocation; even with landlord permission it would be difficult (and expensive) for one man to move a pond three metres to the left. I would have to make do with a stationery pond. The fish would have loved the change of scene too – and being able to enjoy Star Wars through the French Windows. Never mind; me and the fish would make do with stunning views of the fence separating me from the neighbours.
Seriously though, the pond was pretty dire, as I think you will see in the ‘before’ photographs. The biggest challenge of all was going to be to get those giant bullrushes out of the ground. Incidentally, the bullrushes were considerably larger than the ‘before’ photos indicate, as I had already given them a spanking good cut before it dawned on me that it might be a good idea to make use of the camera on the iPhone.
Anyway, I could not find any dynamite anywhere so I was resigned to doing it the old fashioned way, with the help of my imaginary friend Pete. Social isolation was really beginning to play tricks by now. Pete was very good at nagging me on, especially when my natural inclination was to sip gin and tonic on the lawn. But he was bloody useless at heavy lifting and every garden implement I threw at him simply fell to the ground.
It took me three whole days to dig those bullrushes out. I used three forks and two mattocks to hack away at them. Two forks died at the scene; I didn’t mind so much about the one I’d recently purchased from Homebase (I could blame that on Pete), but the other was borrowed from a neighbour, and I can tell you there is little to compare to handing back a fork you borrowed only the day before with all its prongs pointing in different directions. I was mortified. The third fork was borrowed from the landlord and survived the bullrush rout, which is just as well because I was very keen to retain my tenancy for a while yet. As for the mattocks (no, I didn’t know what they were either until I borrowed them), one belonged to another neighbour (not the one who now owned a fork with bent prongs) and one to the landlord.
It was back breaking work and I certainly lost quite a lot of weight and a certain amount of fat. What I ended up with was not ideal but it would do for now and was certainly better than what was there before.