Adventures of a vegie amateur


RhubarbI have a special pair of gardening trousers. They are so old that they don't have belt loops, so I have to use galluses for the sake of the neighbours.

I tie these in the cross-over style like the dragoons. By right there should be two buttons at the back and two on each side at the front, but if you had all of those and you used them all, the effect would lack character. As it happens, I am missing a few buttons and I always leave one free; the effect is a mixture of rakish and medieval, with a dominance of the latter.

When I put on the trousers, I am required to put newspaper on the ground to catch the material that lodges in the turn-ups. This material is called loam and is supposed to be good for potting on — I hope you are impressed by my familiarity with these technical terms, even if I am not sure about them myself.

Thus duly dressed, I go out to the garden and spit on my hands. You never see the people on television gardening programs spitting on their hands, which is a dead giveaway that they are picked solely for their good looks or quaint accents.

Next I have to find my gardening shoes, which may be under the house or in the shed or maybe in the garage. All these places are locked at night, a sad sign of our suspicious society, but in our case also a precaution lest the shoes walk out on their own.

One of them is missing a lace and I keep promising myself I will buy a pair the next time I am in the gardening centre, but they hide them away somewhere and because I am a man, I couldn't possibly ask where.

Thus shoed and trousered, I find the garden fork and stand in the vegetable plot. I spit on my hands again and look around me. We grow quite a few vegetables but my favourites are rhubarb and broad beans because you can see those over the weeds. At this time of the year, however, it is 520 for 2 in favour of the weeds. And I doubt if the beans will take any more wickets this season.

I hate weeds. I understand that they are part of God's creation and so I should not hate them. But my back is unrepentant. They are of two kinds of weeds, those that fulfil their destiny in one season and those that go on year after year. One kind — I forget which — can be put in the compost bin, the other kind are supposed to be put to one side to be burned later.

So, when you are weeding, it is essential that you have two heaps so that the boss thinks you know what you are doing. In fact, you just put them in two separate piles as the mood takes you, happy in the laws of probability that suggest you will be right half the time.

How come you never see farmers weeding? They just let everything grow and then come along with the plough and turn the weeds over and ignore the fact that some of them may be of the wrong type and should be burned.

Today's farmers use a tractor for ploughing, but that has taken much of the romance out of the activity. The traditional ploughman was the poster boy for rural life; he sang to himself and was proud of his straight lines and of how little was wasted at what he called the headland.

The Irish poet Padraic Colum has a poem where he speaks of 'the Plough that is twin to the Sword, that is founder of cities!' (Because this is poetry, he can use capitals wherever he likes and throw in an exclamation mark to remind us to pay attention.) Later in the poem, he has the following:

Slowly the darkness falls, the broken lands blend with the savage;
The brute-tamer stands by the brutes, a head's breadth only above them.

There is nothing nearly as romantic about the advent of darkness in my case, though I have to admire a certain trimness in what I have done. The rhubarb is looking positively perky, but the beans have had it and the rhubarb will have to do all the bowling from now on.

I am stiff and sore in places you would expect, and I could probably do some potting on with the loam under my fingernails. But only if there was no bending involved. 

Frank O'SheaFrank O'Shea is a Canberra writer.

Topic tags: Frank O'Shea, weeds, vegetable garden, rhubarb, broad beans



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Existing comments

Thanks for that Frank, you are my kind of gardener but if your shoes aren't made bt florsheim, almost worn out you are not in the gardening elite. An old tie to hold op then trousers gives one an authentic look too. Thanks for your writing.

Paul Rummery | 06 April 2011  

Just lovely after the sadness of the previous areticle re police misbehaviour. More happy articles please.

irena springfield | 06 April 2011  

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