Me and Mrs Custard have bought a house. As huge and difficult and scary and interesting as this has been I’ve refrained from writing about it here because I don’t wish to add one word to the culture of property porn that has insidiously wormed its way into every aspect of our society. I’m not about to start now just because we got lucky. On a personal note I am grateful not to have to deal with fuckwit real estate agents anymore, and to anyone experiencing what we’ve just been through my thoughts are with you. As Les McQueen would say, it’s a shit business.
My favourite thing about our little place so far is having a garden. We have no back garden to speak of but we do have a big space out the front that the previous owners have been using as a car park for the past two years. Regular readers will know that my gardening abilities are mostly limited to growing very small vegetables in pots but from the first time we visited the house I’ve been dreaming about how to turn that corner of dry, compacted soil and squashed weeds into a proper doing-Grandpa-proud type garden.
So, with great delusions of horticultural adequacy I eagerly turned up at Bunnings two days after we moved in and bought myself a proper spade, a garden fork, a trowel and several bags of organic poo. Game on. Or rather it would have been had our move not coincided with Melbourne’s hottest start to a November since records began. Two weeks of temperatures in the thirties with not a single drop of rain rendered our erstwhile car park dry, dusty and mostly impenetrable. Not that it stopped me trying.
Each evening after work I took to the front yard in shorts and a highly unattractive grey singlet top, trying to get my garden fork more than three inches into the soil. This was far more fun than it sounds. When you’ve been sat on your arse all day shuffling papers at ‘work’ doing a bit of work-work is actually quite invigorating. It’s also the first time since I was at school that I’ve been properly dirty and had to wash proper mud off in the shower. Things got even more fun when, on the recommendations of a sympathetic colleague, I bought a mattock. It’s a kind of flat headed pick axe perfectly suited to scalping vicious weeds from their roots and cleaving huge chunks of earth with relatively little effort. I now love my mattock as much as my laptop.
I suspect my labours were also highly entertaining for our new neighbours, each and every one of whom took turns to peak out of their curtains to watch the only madman in the street with a veggie patch in his front yard. As the days progressed and the rains stayed away I began to feel like Gerard Depardieu in Jean de Florette – toiling in the sun under the suspicious eye of the locals. Midway through the second week of heat and without a cloud in sight I felt like standing on my newly hewn pile of dry dirt and yelling ‘Je suis bossu’” at the sky, just to see what would happen.
The neighbours, yesterday
Thankfully, what did eventually happen was the heavens opened. I mean really opened; in a handy month’s-rainfall-in-24-hours type way. Pools of water gathered in the unploughed bits of our lawn; a trench I’d dug in readiness for some planting turned into a moat. I filled two buckets, half a dustbin and a huge plastic laundry box with rainwater. Taking to it with a fork, the loosened soil came apart easily and I was able to dig about 40 centimetres down into the ground.
From that point on I was away. I staked out a veggie patch and a bed for herbs into which I mixed a 'generous helping' (a technical term favoured by real gardeners on telly which I have decided to adopt to make myself appear more knowledgeable) of manure, chicken poo, blood and bone, seaweed and mulch. A day later I found our first worm... which, frankly, is about as rock and roll as life gets. Even the neighbours have started leaning on the fence for a chat which just goes to show the power of vegetables.
Here be worms!
I'll try and articulate my failures and occasional successes in the garden on these here pages, so if you're a fan of amateurism both journalistic and horticultural, you know where to find me.