Attila the Gardener has demounted the big ladders from their high pegged haunt in the garage. This process is normally surrounded by the ritual attending a Cunard liner launch or the opening of a new museum on Merseyside. The Master of Ceremonies has been strangely reticent in accepting a celebratory glass of chilled Champagne. He says that he wants to descend from his iron framework unbroken and with the life insurance policies untested. After all of my subtle hints, pointed references and naked threats, he has agreed to prune the Wisteria.
I startle awake if I hear an ant fart at the far end of the garden. The rattle bloody scrattle of this year’s growth against the window pane keeps me sleepless for nights on end. My bed fellow of many years has no such problem, slumbering deeply with a beatific expression on his face within forty seconds of hitting the pillow and he can’t see what I’m moaning about. Nevertheless, he has agreed to the undertaking for, as he says, a quiet life. I have retreated out of earshot, so as not to hear his distress at the task in prospect, his keening complaint at every step taken away from his natural milieu, the sturdy, stable bosom of Mother Earth. If I go out to hold the ladder, I would be unable to resist telling him how he was doing the job wrong. Since I get vertigo on a thick pile carpet, I am in no position to dole out criticism. I don’t want to risk stifling any creative impulses which could occur and more importantly, don’t wish to be underneath when tools, scaffolding or husbands come crashing out of the sky.
Phygelius & Hydrangea
We start this job at a disadvantage; Attila is a computer nerd, not a gardening geek. He is a man and thus does not take instruction easily, even from a time served professional. He is a left hander, so my right handed rolling secateurs whilst sharp, are difficult for him to operate. I’ve asked him to cut the whippy growth only and to leave old, woody stems unmolested. Repeatedly he descends from roof height for clarification, so I make a few cuts at ground level as an example. I advise him to leave six buds on each branch, to stimulate next summer’s flowers. He is suddenly unable to count accurately and seems happy with any number between two and twenty. I haven’t mentioned a second essential cut in February; the plant may be dead by then, so there’s no point in getting him riled.
After an hour of high altitude trimming my spouse staggers into the sitting room, snatches the glass from my hand and downs my wine in one gulp. His spectacles sit askew on his nose and he is festooned with spider’s webs. What looks like the remains of a derelict bird’s nest sits rakishly in his hair and his air of masculine expertise seems to have deserted him for wobbly knees and trembling hands. With the attitude of a condemned man, he asks me to inspect his work, so we trail through the house, shedding bits of detritus in his case. With considerable effort, I refrain from making any observations about the mess he’s left in his wake.
Euonymus europaeus (spindle tree)
On the front wall, basking in the afternoon sunlight, the previously sprawling Wisteria is looking chastened. The casements, gutters and downpipes are free of unruly climber, the clippings have been composted, the flowers in the beds beneath appear to be intact and he’s even put the ladder away. I couldn’t have done it better myself.
With grateful thanks to Mike, for a better title than mine.