Andy Richardson: Monty Don has nothing to fear from me
And on the day Weekend celebrates all things food and gardening, I have a confession: I am not the green-fingered type. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the beauty of a verdant plot: I do. It’s just that my track record with gardens is worse than my track record with wives. And that’s not good; as the not-yet-hitched Mrs Richardson III would attest.
I loved gardening as a kid; or, rather, I loved the fun that could be had while others gardened. So on long, lazy summer days, I’d spend the time with my grandparents. As my nan baked delicious apple pies, my granddad and I would tend his garden plot. We’d plant rows and rows of carrots and each week we’d gingerly lift a few to see what had happened. Much as I loved that, the best part was spending time with my beautiful and adored granddad, Alf. As a child of four, I became adept at locking him in the greenhouse and almost smoking tobacco from acorn pipes before being caught by parents. When I locked him into the greenhouse, he’d miss his mid-morning bacon sandwich and wonder what sort of Brattish grandkid he was hanging out with.
I developed a fascination for watching things grow, for creation, if you like, but had no interest in the harvest. So, later in life, I planted a 50ft plot with parsnips, carrots and potatoes, taking immense joy in the emergence of green shoots, flowers and long leaves. When they reached maturity, I let them all rot in the ground. Monty Don has nothing to fear.
At the same house, I acquired a rabbit. I guess he’d heard about the nutter who didn’t harvest carrots and decided to move in. For two days, I shooed him onto the neighbour’s garden, shot him a hose – a putative water cannon – but, alas, he stayed.
I spoke to a friend. “Should I report him to the police?”
“What, for stealing carrots?”
There was only one thing for it. Basil moved in.
I put him in the back garden and let him run free. He did what rabbits do: ate the lot. Rows of expensive, patiently cultivated plants fell beneath his sharp front teeth as he munched roses and lilies, hyacinths and shrubs. Nothing escaped his hungry work. Eventually, he dug a warren beneath the herb garden. Whether he was planning to go beneath the house and back to the front garden, where the carrots grew, I’ll never know.
We eventually moved to another house, in Shrewsbury, where he over-dosed on windfall plums and went to the big old rabbit hutch in the sky. I took him to the vet, who administered the final injection. I told her candidly about his life. “Lucky rabbit,” she said. “They usually get shoved in a cage. He’s had the time of his life.” I think she probably right.
In another garden, I built a retaining wall, taking vast pieces of alder felled by builders then chainsawing them sidewards, I stacked earth behind them and created two levels. I think I’d been watching too much Gardener’s World. A hammock was strung between two trees – then I bought a dog who raced around and destroyed the lot. Like I say, nice to watch things grow – bored when it’s all finished.
I almost lost my current garden thanks to a really weird error by a solicitor. After Divorce I, Mrs Ex Wife had signed the house over to me while I’d paid a not inconsiderable sum for the privilege. And the solicitor forgot to sign over the garden, so Wife I unwittingly continued to own a half share in that for seven years, until I found out by chance.
I wondered whether, seven years on, the former Mrs R might like to christen the garden by popping round and tending the lawn; after all, she apparently owned half of it. She didn’t. Funny that. And it was signed over before either of could say ‘well, the divorce wasn’t bad, we did alright, really, but the solicitors who conducted it were as bright as a windowless room after a power cut’.
At our present home, I’ve done the ‘plant a few vegetables’ trick quite a few times; digging up chunks of beautiful lawn and going down by an inch or so to create small beds. When the sense of ennui has invariably struck, I’ve allowed the grass to reclaim the territory it once had. And the result has been a sort-of checker board garden, with plenty of squares that are depressed into the turf.
That won’t last long, thankfully. For she who must be obeyed has decided to seize control of the garden. Before it surrenders to a virulent strain of sticky weed, she’s decided to step in. The garden is being levelled. I am being banished to the house – result; there’s 4,000 cds and 400 cook books to get through – and she is now Queen Garden. Unless, of course, I find another rabbit…….