MICHAEL WOLSEY: ‘In garden warfare, it’s who you know that counts’
I KNOW little to nothing about gardening, which is a pity for I have quite a substantial garden front and back.
I keep it under control by a form of trench warfare. I go over the top twice a year, in spring and autumn, emerging from my house with all the weapons I can muster; things for mowing and chopping, for slashing and burning.
I hope to catch the enemy by surprise and reduce him to the point of unconditional surrender – the brambles and weeds banished, the shrubs and bushes cut to the stalk and even the non-combatant flowers looking cowed and docile.
I never quite manage it. After an hour or two of hand to branch combat I have had enough and settle for a ceasefire. I can’t claim outright victory but I can make an orderly retreat, safe in the knowledge that it will be six months at least before my foe dares to confront me again.
This year I launched my usual spring offensive and retired happy that the enemy had been put in his place.
He didn’t stay there for long. The combination of wet and warm weather, in this season we call summer, has emboldened the plant brigade and their allies, the shrubs, thorns, brambles and wild grass.
They massed on my borders a few weeks ago, and advanced on the house at an alarming rate.
I had not seen the enemy so strong before and feared I could not confront it by myself. Time to call in paid mercenaries, I thought.
But I number many oddities among my friends – golfers, anglers, vegans, and, as it turned out, two gardeners. When I mentioned my dilemma to them, they brushed aside the idea of paying to get the job done. Forget about the mercenaries, they declared, for they were battle-hardened veterans and would face the foe without flinching.
They arrived at my door within days and I could see right away where I has been going wrong. Their weaponry was Nato’s finest whereas mine might have been borrowed from the San Marino defence forces.
Their lawn mower could have eaten mine – and might have done if I hadn’t got it out of the way in time. Their cutting and hacking tools made mine look like a bulk purchase from Smyths Toys. They even brought spades (for digging new trenches?) and something called a hoe.
My offer of assistance was flatly rejected. This was not a job for amateurs. So I went to get a few beers for when they took a break.
But these two did not believe in breaks. Their assault had the ferocity of a plague of locusts.
My garden was vanishing before my eyes. And as the weeds and thorns disappeared strange things began emerging from what had been the undergrowth: a deflated World Cup 14 football, lost by my grandchildren in, presumably, 2014; a Zippo cigarette lighter which had been my pride and joy until I gave up smoking 18 years ago; the remote control from an old television.
This was getting out of hand. It had to stop before the television itself put in an appearance.
I was happy to settle for my usual ceasefire but these two wanted nothing less than total surrender.
One man, with a large strimming device, made a dash at an inoffensive piece of hedge while his fellow fanatic, armed with motorised clippers, attacked a verge that had not yet shown the white flag.
In the end, I prevailed, and we stood back to admire the battlefield. And I had to admit that it did not look much like the site of a recent and terrible conflict – just a well-maintained garden.
As I said, I know little to nothing about gardening. But it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that counts.