About twenty years ago, I realised that I suffered from a terrible, debilitating, and seemingly rare affliction – a fear of gardening. It all began not long after my former partner and I bought our first house together. She had decided that we needed to upgrade the backyard. It was quite a large area, very deep, with a slight uphill slope from the patio to where the yard ended, just behind the garden shed. The yard was dotted here and there with bedraggled native plants, while the central area featured a patchy, brown lawn.
My partner had a friend whose boyfriend ran a landscaping business. She arranged for him for give us a quote for an overhaul of the yard – new trees and shrubs, a new lawn, a bark garden contained by old railway sleepers. After we’d seen the quote, and I said I didn’t think it was a good idea, my partner arranged for the work to go ahead anyway. This was particularly annoying, given that the quote was based on the fact that I would be doing half of the actual work.
So, as the middle of summer approached, I found myself hauling barrow-loads of bark and sand around the yard. I lost count of trips back and forth to the gardening supply store. As temperatures hovered around the 40-degree mark, I grew faint and weak, but stumbled on, afraid to appear too pathetic in front of the burly landscaper. My partner and her friend sat in the air-conditioned comfort of our house, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, while occasionally waving to us, sweating and sunburnt, in the garden.
As the work on our garden was confined to the weekends (the landscaper didn’t want this job interfering with his ‘proper’ work) it took about a month and a half before everything was finished. It seemed to take forever. The completed job looked ‘okay’, I guess, although I was never a big fan of the ‘bark chip’ idea, and the lawn never grew properly. As I surveyed the garden in the weeks afterwards, considered the time, expense and physical work involved in the project, I was struck by an amazing revelation – I never wanted to do such a thing again. The mere thought of gardening made me feel physically ill.
Years later, when it came time to buy a home for myself and my two daughters, I deliberately chose a house with a ‘low maintenance’ garden. We looked at dozens of places, but it was the house with the small, narrow – mostly paved – backyard that we chose. There was just a sliver of garden around the edges of the yard, and that was covered by the ubiquitous bark chips. It all looked so easy to maintain.
All was fine in the summer – it was easy to look after. An occasional watering and a little weeding was all that was required. But then winter arrived, and in particular, the winter rain, and weeds blossomed across the barked area. As I looked upon the green mass of unwelcome vegetation I started to feel faint and giddy. I had to force myself to confront them – filling rubbish bags and buckets with weeds. But the following week they were back in force. I tried spraying weed-killer. I tried digging up entire patches of the yard. But it was a losing battle. In the end, I gave up, and for about five years let the weeds rule the garden. Before I finally sold the house, I had to spend about five thousand dollars clearing up its fabulous ‘low maintenance’ garden.
We now live in an inner-city cottage. It has the tiniest garden imaginable, with a few vines, a couple of shrubs, a small tree or two. The back yard has a patch of lawn no bigger than a living room rug. But the other day, when walking at the side of our house, I noticed something green and wiry poking through the layers of scoria covering the path. And not just one, but several, dotted here and there along the lane. My heart started beating faster; I broke out in a sweat. I felt faint. Weeds.