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After decades of living on building sites and having sworn not to follow my example, Basil has bought a fixer upper. Having disgorged all of my knowledge about fillers, paints and glues, on the August holiday weekend I found myself volunteering to tackle his garden. I can’t say what lunacy possessed me; like the house, it hasn’t been disturbed by human hand for some years. The lawn is vast, the grass thigh high and the ground beneath is uneven. The entire plot is pocked with dandelions, larded with horsetail and dosed generously with ground elder.
Dahlia 'Red Fox'
Dahlia ‘Red Fox’

Regular close cutting is a good way to control the bastards, without recourse to napalm. Since my son has only a weedy looking electric turf tickler, I took my petrol mower to visit. She’s a big machine, named after a great aunt, due to the similarity of their expressions. Unlike my relative, Bessie is a strapping lass with a heavy roller, who cuts long grass and levels tussocks. I set the trim level to its highest location, spat on my palms and got busy. As I pounded up and down, clouds of kamikaze crickets rose around me. Whenever the mower took a dive into a dip, I got belted in the chest with the handle. Initially, vigorous and inventive swearing helped to dull the pain. I soon found that this allowed me to consume more wildlife than I had planned. I spat out most of the grasshoppers with a cartoon “ptooi” but fear that I swallowed enough to be considered a vegetarian no longer.
Campanula (bellflower)
Campanula (bellflower)

In the centre of the garden, a huge hummock rises above the sod like an ancient barrow. I’m not in the mood for archaeology, since my hands don’t work anymore. If the remains of an ancient Briton lie beneath, he’ll have to stay there. I suspect that it’s an old compost heap, compressed under the weight of time. It had been partially planted with Chaenomeles (flowering quince), Sambucus (elderberry) and a lot of weeds. Attila attacked the mess and eradicated the dead wood and deadly nightshade. The dock and bindweed have been merely winged; they will be back. He put in a hero’s turn, uncomplaining in the face of thorn slashes and nettle stings, only to squeal like a girl when touched up by frogs lurking in the undergrowth. I think that I shall recommend placing a rhubarb on top of the tumulus and then forgetting about it. I didn’t get around to the towering banks of willow herb and other hoodlums in the alleged flower beds but the amphibians and insects deserve a sanctuary.
Pelargoniums & Gladioli
Pelargoniums & Gladioli

With any task of this magnitude, the trick is to employ blinkers. Don’t let yourself see the magnitude of the whole undertaking, since this is the path to insanity. Nevertheless, you must keep a piece of your brain in touch with the overall scheme and somebody, somewhere, has to watch the budget. We retired to a crumbling step to eat ice cream and drink chilled coffee, whilst congratulating ourselves on what we had achieved. My husband was a symphony of slashed clothing, accessorised with torn and lumpy skin. I can’t move any body part without moaning, other than raising an eyebrow or wiggling my ears. Good job that the important bits still work.

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