Picture of a judge's wigThis Is Not A BLOG!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 07/06/08

Everything In The Garden Is...

Well, a month or so in, and how's my part-time status going?

Very well, thank you. In fact, it may be the best thing I've ever done in my working life.

My stress levels seem to have dropped, although I now find myself clock-watching at 11 o'clock rather than at 1. Getting in before 8am, as I have done every day since the change, means that I've not worked later than 2pm in the last five weeks. It's nice to be able to walk out of the door and leave my poor colleagues struggling through until 4pm or later.

It also means that I have two things I didn't have before: plenty of time, and enough energy to make use of it.

As one consequence, my garden doesn't know what's hit it.

I don't think it fair to say that I've neglected the garden in recent years. I've kept it reasonably tidy - at least, as tidy as it can be kept when you get the village's Piss-Heads Society (Junior and Intermediate sections) chucking their empty bottles and cans into it (or even throwing them at the house itself); or when our local neds-in-embryo stuff their cans and crisp packets into the hedge. But the truth is that keeping order on these few square metres of the planet require three things:

Down the years, I've found that it is seldom that the three turn up together. The best I could hope for was a state of genteel siege, doing the minimum necessary to ward off major encroachment: cutting the grass, trimming the hedges and doing whatever tidying was feasible in the circumstances.

In the last month, however, I've gone at it with a will. In this, I've been very fortunate with the weather, in that we've had plenty of dry, even sunny, afternoons and evenings. As a result, about ten years' worth of remedial work has been done in less than thirty days.

First up was the job of re-establishing the flower borders around the front lawn. These had become overgrown by grass and a real eyesore, with a fuchsia bush, a lavender plant and a something-I-don't-know-the-name-of struggling to make themselves visible. So, at it I went with fork, trowel and sieve.

I've now discovered that, back-breaking though it often is, there's something immensely satisfying about gardening. It may be a throwback to my childhood, when I would mix earth and water in a bucket intended for sandcastles, sprinkle leaves and seeds into it as though making a dish for a cookery programme (I defy The Galloping Gourmet himself to better my Pâté de Terre avec Dents-de-Lion) and stir up the concoction before turning the whole lot out onto the garden to ooze away.

It may be about the smell of the fertile earth wafting up at you. That's quite a beguiling aroma, one which may speak to a primeval part of our consciousness. But not, most emphatically, when combined with another smell, and here's where my new-found gardening mania has caused quite a change in my world-view.

I used to think that cats were kewl, cats were stylish, cats were clean (at least in comparison with dogs). I have now revised my opinion. Cats are no cleaner than dogs in their habits - or rather, in one particular habit. As I have discovered, the one thing they absolutely love is freshly dug soil. They simply can't resist shitting in it. Every morning as I came out of the house to go to work, I could see one or more little gift of love from the local feline population. What is particularly galling is that I know that at least two of the little bastards come from homes where the family, from whatever motive, have almost completely concreted over their gardens. So, having been deprived of showing their true affection for the humans that they own, they come and dump in my flower beds.

This wouldn't be quite as bad if they maintained their mythical (as I now know) reputation for burying it afterwards. However, all the cats in this neighbourhood seem to suffer from an extremely poor sense of direction and judgment of distances. They'll scrape the hole, and then crap about two inches away from it.

I asked for advice from people in the know. Some suggested citrus peel, others coffee grounds. My father used to swear by a catapult, but you have to catch the fsckers at it for that method to work. I needed a passive deterrent. I tried sprinking a jar of pickle vinegar over the beds, but it rained a couple of hours later and washed it all away.

I ended up getting a container of cat-repellant pellets from our local B&Q. These are tiny little grains of clay impregnated with aromatic plant oils which are alleged to put off any visiting cat. So I sprinkled these handsomely over the beds. It seemed to work - except that the buggers then just shat in the middle of the lawn instead. So I had to scatter the pellets all over the grass as well. This is expensive, and I think it might be cheaper to pay the fine which would result from simply strangling the bloody mogs in the first place.

That aside, I've sown some seeds in the beds now. The night-scented stock, the alyssum and the cornflowers seem to be coming through, though I'm not sure about the calendulas at the moment. Time will tell, of course.

I've also tried to transplant some daffodils from where they weren't wanted. Now, it may well be that you can't transplant daffodil bulbs: it may well be against several Laws of Nature (and even a number of Guidelines) to even think about carrying out such a wanton act. However, I have formulated The Judge's First Law Of Carefree Gardening, which I hope one day will be anthologised alongside a similar sentiment by Arthur C. Clarke. It runs like this:

"Whatever you want to do in the garden, it's always the wrong plant, in the wrong place, at the wrong time of year. Go ahead and do it anyway: Nature has a sense of humour, and may well reward your impudence."

I'll have to wait until next Spring for the answer, of course. If I haven't been taken away by then for offenses involving a can of WD-40, a cigarette lighter and some very surprised-looking cats. Well, if James Bond can do it to a snake...