Sunday 6 September 2020

You may well ask

Imagine, if you will, a blithe September afternoon.The Rudbekia are at their orange finest and the sunchokes wave like their larger cousins, shiny yellow sunflowers, in the gentle breeze. 

That’s if you happen to be in the right part of the garden, however. If you were unlucky enough to be a sunchoke and have been planted near the shed and in manured soil with the sun on your face, you’re in for it.

Because of that manure your roots have thrived, multiplied and spread into the lawn. And gardening is all about control and Victorian neatness. Cutting your roots out of the lawn last spring means drastic measures will take place this autumn. 

First up is the wife who gets the man to help her stick a fork right through your tangle of roots and wrench them out until they are torn from the clods of earth you called home. But she’s one of the better fat controllers. She’s brought along buckets of water into which your torn roots are placed so that your shiny yellow faces don’t wither and fold.

And all along the flower bed she goes; digging, tearing, separating and lifting. Your mates join you and they are squashed into your tub of water with alarming cruelty. But it’s back-breaking for her.Your roots are tough.

Then what on earth is he getting up to? You may well ask!

When you are all removed from your flower bed the fun really starts. He digs out enough soil to provide himself with a graveyard plot and he scatters it on the beds where your mates continue to glow, undisturbed, in the snatched September sunshine. And she provides more tubs which he sinks into the big grave-like hole. Then you are transferred into these tubs and, with your feet in water, you are buried. 


A whole bed of sunchokes has been dug up simply to be placed in plastic tubs, full of water and compost, back into the soil where you’d grown happily for the last five years.

Ah! I get it. She doesn’t like your roots spreading into her lawn. So you’ve got to be grown in containers. And now you feel sick and weak. The uprooting has made you wilt. They’re going to put a bean stick up your back side, throttle you with string and force you to stand erect, even though you’d rather flop all over the soil. It’s all been such a shock, being uprooted like that. And simply because you were successful. You were growing well. So you had to be put into containers, like mint, so you can’t spread.

It took him five hours on that sunny September afternoon. Why couldn’t he just put his feet up and watch the racing on the tele, if he’s so interested in the turf. 

Friday 4 September 2020


When the kitchen ceiling came down last week there was the inevitable clearing away of debris. This I achieved surprisingly quickly. And I was relieved we weren’t having heavy showers at the time. I stored the damp and slithery broken plaster board and roof insulation in bags on the patio. Then the farce started.

Friends came to help me in the garden last Friday but it isn’t a pretty sight seeing someone digging in soil getting as muddy as a rugby player on a wet November Saturday afternoon. Nor is it fun sitting next to a pile of wet roof insulation and broken bits of grimy grey plasterboard trying to serve tea to my helpful, weary garden workers. 

Dragging long whips of rambling rose to the garden waste bins was even more farcical. They kept getting caught on garden furniture as I wrestled them to their bye-bye bins. At one point so much growth had been hacked back by my ufl* friend I could only pile it up by our front door. Imagine how our co-op delivery boys felt! Trying to get to the front door knocker was as impenetrable for them as POWs tackling the jungle in the film ‘The Bridge Over the River Kwai’, (needless to say without the cruelty, starvation and forced labour). We must have looked like a mad house. The patio resembled something from The Somme. It rained hard and the mud kept flowing. But my friends persisted shovelling soil, cutting back rambling roses and moving raised beds, even though they were getting soaked.I ran out of rainproof jackets for them.

But I rewarded them with a fish n chip supper and Aperol spritzers. 

This week I managed to get our breakfast and lunch ready - on trays - in our upstairs snug. It’s a small study-bedroom with tv, sofa bed, bureau, teaching materials, books and papers related to my writings. In there I plugged in the mini fridge so that we didn’t have to endure tea flavoured with milk that had gone off. The mini kettle was a boon as was our supplementary tv. In that way we could leave the builders to enjoy ripping out the rest of the plasterboard and roof insulation. And they could get on with replacing it all with bales of new insulating material and plasterboard without us annoying them by getting under their feet making cheese sandwiches and boiling kettles.

But when they’d finished plastering the new ceiling the dust layers were thick enough to grow autumn sowings of overwintering lettuce! Despite putting dust sheets everywhere the carpet - to be replaced if our house insurance coughs up - was daubed with flesh-coloured plaster and had a sheen of cough-inducing dust. 

The night the builders finished I considered whether to leave our redirected baskets of kitchen implements and ingredients in our over-full living room. But we’d had enough of eating off our laps in the snug. We needed to be able to see our dining table. So, before our builder paints the new plaster, some time next week,I, possibly foolishly, put our measuring jugs, pyrex dishes, baking trays, herbs, spices, baking powder, food processor and other electrical wizardry back into the newly-ceilinged kitchen. 

Next day my gardening friend reclaimed dust sheets from the shed. When the plaster has dried and it’s ready for a coat of paint I’ll somehow drape the shelves of pyrex dishes with the dust sheets so that I don’t have to move everything out into the living room yet again. 

On a positive note the kitchen units and skirting boards cleaned up very well and I painted the skirting boards, despite being very tired. But it’s looking cared-for. 

Of course, next day, it had to start raining which meant any washing had to be tumble-dried. Piles of washing in limited floor space is beyond annoying. 

And the newly refurbished kitchen space became a bottle-neck. There was simply too much going on in a small space. The carpet, after two days of restoration, needed to be shampooed. Richard wanted the electric airer down as we had so much laundry to dry. We were tripping over each other trying to carry the carpet shampooer and airer downstairs while temporarily using the stairs as storage. It was madness. And our gardening friend needed an extension lead to be plugged in so he could finish jobs in the garden for me. Nevertheless, even though both men were being truly helpful, I banned him and Richard for an afternoon and shampooed the plaster-laden carpet with death threats if either of them walked over it while the carpet dried. 

My old Henry vacuum cleaner had managed to get up clods of plaster but my month-old Shark coped less well. I thought I’d damaged it with too much plaster-sucking. But yesterday I took the brushes and rollers out from my really efficient Shark stick cleaner. It wasn’t plaster that had clogged the vacuum head but a twig that had got caught behind a roller. A twig?? No wonder the suction was so poor. But all cleaned up well and I have my new Shark back in suction heaven. Thank goodness for small mercies. 

But what of the bloody garden hose? I was desperate to flush away patio debris from the mammoth rose-hacking of a week ago. And the remnants of the piles of plaster board. But yesterday was another farce. Our builder messaged me to say the contract waste removal team was trying to get to our patio to shift the ex-ceiling debris. But I was at the far end of the garden when the message pinged its way to me. And my knee was so painful, after days of shifting kitchen ware, hefty garden cuttings and ceiling debris. By the time I limped to our patio to unlock the gate for the contractors they had got in and were busily shifting the rubbish. Had Richard let them in? No. He was asleep. ( His meds still seem to knock him out until about 11am). No the clever contractor showed me how he’d looped our padlock over the gate and gained access. (Note to self - care with security for our front gate or else we become a burglars’ paradise.)

still needed to wash away the rose clippings, dust and debris on the patio but the bloody hose wouldn’t work. An annoying connector valve - according to our Neighbourhood Nextdoor community faqs - has to be fiddled with in order to allow water from the outside tap to fill the hose and run through it freely. A whole morning and several You Tube ‘how to’ videos later showed my up-to-his-knees-in-mud friend and I how to adjust the annoying valve. Finally the Hozelock worked and I could actually hose the patio down. By which time it was almost unnecessary as we’d such heavy downpours it’s a wonder the garden furniture wasn’t washed away. And, having successfully shampooed the previously plaster-caked carpet, it was in danger of becoming a magnet for mud. I was running out of rugs and mats. Will the rain ever stop? 

My last but one garden project to undertake before I drop with exhaustion is to dig up late summer-flowering sunchokes. They spread too rapidly for my liking. They have a sunny yellow flower and really make the garden shine as we move from the August heat into more moody September weather. But their roots have to be contained - rather like mint plants. My back and knee usually complain if I do too much digging but my knees-in-mud friend managed to get the fork and spade into the congested root system when I feared injuring my knee and aggravating my back problem. 

However I successfully pushed the plants straight into huge tubs of water so they didn’t wilt. Was I succeeding? Just about.

The next task is to reposition a waterbutt, guttering and its downpipe. But, for now, I’m going to enjoy the weekend, watching a Marple and reading The Guardian. One day we must return to semi-normality. Enough farce already. 

*ufl - up from London