Gardening in Australia, AKA Dancing With Death

With forty-eight hours and thirty minutes to go, no, I’m not the teeniest bit nervous about the arrival of the rellies for Christmas. While one half of me can’t wait to wrap myself up in dad’s arms again and beg him to take me home to let me be a child again, the other half keeps reminding me about all the stuff he’s going to notice; the stuff he didn’t do that way, in his day.

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Because, as parents, that daily calling to judge and criticize our adult kids for not doing things the way we did, is hard to ignore. I found myself guilty of it when NC proffered any suggestions about the interior decoration of her new studio, the other day.

 

‘Don’t be silly,’ I heard myself say. In other words, Mum will always know best. For her sake, let’s hope she sticks to her word and decides against grandkids.

 

My conscience, in terms of the cleanliness of my house, has been eased somewhat by the knowledge that Dad has a cleaner – in both houses – so I’m not sure why I’ve spent the past few weeks zapping the moths from the pantry, checking every food storage jar for weevils and catching every speck of dust in the air before it lands on the furniture. But admittedly, when I bragged about the fucks I don’t give this year in my last post, I think I must have blanked out my father’s visit.

 

I’ve even weeded the garden, a massive job, because the house we recently rented seems to cultivate weeds rather than plants, and weeding is not a job for the faint-hearted in Australia. My dad doesn’t have a garden in Chelsea, and when I look back now to those years of pretty English gardens with their delicate flowers, chirping birds and stinging nettles,  the main predator, it is with a fondness. I laugh now when I remember how I used to do the spider dance each time an earthworm poked its head out of the soil, and the time we discovered a slow worm under the swing set and called the RSPCA.

 

Beetles, daddy-long-legs and even maggots are childsplay once you’ve danced with death in your Australian garden. There was a warning in the media recently about how there are more snakes around this year than normal – as in deadly snakes, the type that kill you, and feel zero compassion for the fact that you’re really British.

 

You mean IN THE ZOOS? I was tempted to ask, before I remembered that I didn’t really need or want to know the answer.

 

Gardening, is apparently one of those strange activities, like lawn bowls and scowling at young people, that some older people develop a passion for. Not me. With a dodgy lower back, an irrational fear of skin melanomas and the more minor problem, that I don’t actually know one end of a plant from another – and certainly not one end of a native Australian plant from the other – it is something I strenuously avoid, and was one of the best bits about living in the city with its tiny balconies and pokey courtyards. Unfortunately, however, when we rented this house, the only way to negotiate the rent to a sum that correlated vaguely with the old man’s spreadsheet, (created circa 1950), was to take ownership of the garden.

 

Secretly, I suppose, I had hoped that the old man would punch his chest in an ape-like gesture of dominance and add weeding to his short list of man-jobs – but unfortunately, he’s as terrified of creatures that can kill you as I am. Here, snakes lurk in the flower beds, hide under your deck and have even been known to take a shower with you. In one video I saw, one of the sneaky buggers crawled out of a light fitting and the family continued to live in the house.

 

I haven’t decided if the Princess is just happy to share her territory with me when I’m in the garden, or secretly delights in scaring the bejeebers out of me by clambering stealthily through the bushes and rattling leaves each time I’m on my hands and knees in what is clearly a position of submission.

 

Put it this way, there’s rarely the temptation to dig too deeply here with the Funnel Web – a common garden spider. Although, in fairness to one of the world’s deadliest spiders, it is generous by poisonous spider standards because it gives you a good thirty minutes or so to die your heinous death.

 

Dad might be wise not to mention the thick layer of dust on the skirting.

 

 

 

One Man and His Man Cave

 

Tip Or Man Cave?
Tip Or Man Cave?

Our celebrations have been tinged with a sense of undeniable loss this week, as we closed the front door for the final time on our old house.

Selling the house was cause for celebration; the ‘loss’ was suffered by the old man who was forced to farewell his leaking shed and the facilities of Kimbriki Tip.

I’ve mentioned the old man’s questionable fascination with Kimbriki Tip before; his home from home. (Why Gardening Can Lead To Divorce.)

My husband is a man caver, (like my son is currently aspiring to be). Man caving is apparently a fairly common pastime of a lot of middle-aged men, who allocate more of their free time to their man caves than to their children at the weekend.

His distress was evident as we began the final stages of de-cluttering the house, and my heart almost broke as I watched him tearfully clear out his crap precious artefacts from  the shed.

That shed held a myriad of good and bad memories for him. It had been his smoking bolthole when he thought none of us knew, our dumping ground for things that had no other home, but most importantly, it was his own precious man-space.

When we first bought the house and planned the renovations needed to create our dream home, (that is, before we got the quotes), I remember him saying to me, ‘Build what you like, Lou, I just want a shed.’

So I gave him his shed, although admittedly it did have one minor design fault in that it was slightly prone to attracting water in wet weather.

Shed With MoatHence the money allocated in our renovation budget to my spangly cushions and weathered oak beach furniture had to be spent on drainage solutions for that fucking shed. None of which worked. And it was only when the old man, either in desperation or because his cave issues had sent him barking fucking mad, suggested a moat, that I finally pulled the plug on financing that useless piece of corrugated iron crap and bought him a pair of wellies instead.

Nerd Child backed me up (for once), helpfully reminding her father of the physics involved in the relationship between water and an un-level garden. Apparently water will always travel downhill and if a shed is foolishly located at the bottom of a garden, (and in a suburb renowned for some of the wettest weather in Sydney), the shed will not always remain dry underfoot. It was a poignant moment in their relationship when she put a comforting arm around his neck and said, ‘it’s time to give it up, Dad.’

So with a white elephant for a shed, the old man was forced to source another man cave and Kimbriki Tip fitted his criteria, becoming his refuge for the next six years.

If he had a bad week at work, he consoled himself at the tip; when things got stressful at home, he scarpered off to the tip.

Which is why it was with such a very heavy heart that we dumped the final load of our shit at the tip on Sunday. As we passed through the first barrier and saluted Dave, there was a weighty silence in the car, only broken by the old man’s observation of, ‘fuck me, they’ve increased the charge for general waste to $15’.

Security At Kimbriki TipSecurity is worse than at JFK Airport at Kimbriki Tip. An unfounded sense of guilt assaults the nervous system even when you know you aren’t concealing any paint pots under your veg, and the body twitches uncontrollably in the effort of trying to appear as normal as possible as you pass through the two Gestapo checkpoints.

I always imagined some Bond-esque action sequence taking place as I waited in that queue nervously. I envisaged this army of helicopters suddenly whirring into life overhead and the garbage men ripping off their yellow fluorescent vests to reveal Federal police uniforms, if we actually dared secrete some illegal paint pots, (or heaven forbid, a car battery), into the vegetation section.

The old man shared many memories with me on that car journey back home. It was obviously cathartic for him, yet it was still an uncharacteristic display of emotion from a very proud man. He spoke of his disappointment that the council had never offered a membership policy for Kimbriki, some sort of loyalty card for people like him, who needed its sense of community. He talked of his fears for the empty weekends ahead, the loss of his two man-sanctuaries that had been so close to his heart.

I can feel his anxiety building as we prune our new rose bushes. His initial enthusiasm for our new maintenance-free courtyard with its few pathetic shrubs has been replaced by a concern that trips to the tip will no longer be warranted. And there is nowhere to ‘dwell’ in the courtyard.

After six years of raking leaves, cursing at fallen Gum branches and Paper bark and wading through a waterlogged shed, it is the end of an era.

Man seeking new man cave.

Marriage And The Secret To A Good Rake

English: A pink metal leaf rake; apparently a ...
English: A pink metal leaf rake; apparently a smaller variant of this classic gardening hand tool, commonly used for raking between plants (or by children as a toy rake) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

‘I’ve been raking all my life,’ was the old man’s pathetic justification as we fought physically, tooth and nail,  over the garden rake last Saturday.

Selling your house can do that. It has the power to trigger marital warfare and make a couple regress back to the behaviour of two toddlers in a ballpark.

Selling your house is apparently one of the most stressful events in marriage; or even life.

We’d been calling it ‘teamwork’, before last Saturday.

For in the relentless pursuit to make our house look as appealing as those properties in makeover shows at our weekly open for inspections, we spend EVERY WEEKEND fluffing and titifying. Last Saturday, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and for a moment we forgot that we were the A team.

The ‘straw’ was probably the rain, but then again it might equally have been the hangover.

Then there were the leaves.

It has rained every weekend since the house went on the market, (in spite of reaching the high twenties Monday to Friday), so getting up at 7am to drive the hour to the old house to ‘fluff’, is not really the best start to the weekend.

The old man is certainly no Jamie Durie and I don’t have the brown-nosing ability to be his Assistant. (The Definition of Lazy)

Even so, generally we’re a good team on these trips, quickly slotting into our house and gardening responsibilities as soon as we get there. We share the raking and leaf collection and the old man cleans the pool while I beautify the interiors; removing any tell-tale signs of mould, cockroaches and rising damp. We work together like one of those go-getting teams off The Block, perhaps a bit older, a little slower, unarguably less enthusiastic and certainly more intolerant of each other.

Deadlines are never good for stress.

Of course, if the house wasn’t located in its own Arctic micro-climate and wind tunnel, I think that our weekly makeover would be a breeze. But the combination of special climactic conditions, and the forest of deciduous trees that inhabit both gardens, creates more raking than Fall in Central Park.

The leaves have been a key factor in our decision to sell the house. We have spent more money on upgrading leaf blowers than all the renovations put together and there have been several occasions in our local DIY store where I have had to tell the old man to, ‘PUT THE ELECTRIC SAW AND NIGHT GOGGLES DOWN, NOW!’. If you illegally cut a tree down in our area, you can be fined up to $20,000. At times, we have considered that the crime might actually be worth the fine.

So what bought about that little outburst this morning? Why did the old man finally reach his ‘leaf’ tipping point?

Rain affects the old man.

This is a man who has moved half way around the world in search of sunshine, and spends Monday to Friday in a constricting suit and air conditioning.

So when we arrived at the ‘property from hell’ to be greeted by a bed of leaves the height of Kilimanjaro AND it was pissing down, the ‘team’ floundered. There were so many f*cking leaves, you couldn’t see the lawn, let alone the intricate sandstone landscaping. It was the fallout from yet another freaky cyclonic weather pattern sent down from Zeus up north.

And we were late. And we had a deadline.

The ADHDer had dropped the bombshell on us at breakfast that morning that he was intending to go to his first ‘proper’ (drink and drugs) party that night and I had wasted far too much time trying to convince him not to; resorting to lengthy scaremongering tactics about mixing drinks with his medication, dangerous Sydney suburbs, date rape and loose women. I then spent the hour drive to Armagheddon hyperventilating in the car.

By 10 O’block, the pressure to dress the house in time (and con some poor buyer that by some miraculous trick of nature, our deciduous trees do not shed their leaves), was really on.

It was pouring, and the old man had won the paper, rock, and scissor competition on the way to wear the only raincoat we own. This was no shower either.  Rain was pouring down the back of my trousers via the crack of my ass and seeping into my undies as I raked and collected, raked and collected; while the old man, snug as a bug in his raincoat was farting around with the connections on the hose.

I asked him politely what he was doing. ‘What the f*ck are YOU doing exactly?’ I squealed like a Banshee, as he stood watching me pour my millionth armful of soggy, decaying leaves into the garden bag.

He picked up on my questioning tone, immediately. ‘Why don’t I rake the front?’ he suggested, attempting to dampen my anger, (like I wasn’t damp enough already), while trying to extricate the precious rake out of my red, calloused hands.

He pulled; I pulled.

‘I’M raking,’ I argued, pushing him away. ‘I’m a much better raker than you. You rake the same space over and over again, wasting time. I’m much more accurate than you.’ I went on, realising just how lame and petty I was beginning to sound.

But he persevered childishly, a look of grim determination on his dry face, forcefully trying to prise the rake out of my hands, pulling each of my fingers off the shaft one at a time, while I clamped them back forcefully on the handle even more tightly, refusing to let go.

‘For f*ck’s sake, Lou, just grow up, will  you?’ he dared. ‘LET GO OF THE BLOODY RAKE. (wait for it) You know I’VE been raking my whole life….’

How proud he must be.

I suppose you could call it a seminal moment in our marriage.

Why Gardening Can Lead To Divorce

Is it considered normal marital behaviour to find yourself on the cusp of divorce after a domestic spat at the garden centre?

Surely there’s nothing particularly incendiary about a trip to Flower Power on a sunny Sunday afternoon? Safer than going to a strip club together, or hot-air ballooning, say? I’d thought that striving towards safer, retirement-oriented projects at the weekend,  was a positive thing; I was quite looking forward to buying my first set of floral gardening gloves, checking out the lawn killer and comparing composts.

Admittedly, garden centres have held little appeal for either of us in the past, so in hindsight the potential for tension amongst plant life was always a possibility.Spot of Colour  And being that teensy bit hungover probably didn’t help either. Yes, the writing probably was on the proberbial wall, but it’s still no excuse for the outpouring of bile that was released amongst those innocent capucchino-coloured pots.

Was it that unreasonable of me to expect the old man to come with me to the garden centre to help me carry four heavy plant pots? I was buying the pots to save him money after all, since our green-fingered neighbor had generously donated four budding Agave from her bountiful and healthy tropical fest next door. And as ‘Agave’ are usually $80 a pop, (even from the Scout robbers volunteers), and all we had to do was provide them with water and a suitable container, it was a bargain.

The eye-rolling started before we left the house. So sensing trouble and being prepared (once a Brownie, always a Brownie), I decided to market our little trip as more of ‘a mini adventure’ (because treating him like a three year old usually works), and incorporated prostituted myself by an offer to accompany him to the tip on the way.

What man doesn’t go weak at the knees at the tip? Especially our local tip which has become an iconic musee de debris. Statues sculpted out of old metal, a labyrinth of vintage furniture and a collection of tropical plants to rival Hyde Park. The bureaucracy for entry into the tip is almost as convoluted as entering Australia for refugees. You need serious credentials. You need to know your way around recycling and there is a minimum requirement of a degree in waste management.

Yet when the old man inhales its odorous ambiance in all its decaying glory, his whole body expands with pride. It’s the only time he can pretend to be a real man, excitably donning his (superficially) dirty gardening gloves and his oldest encrusted shorts, and communicating with the Nazi ‘tip’ management team in some colloquial tradie/tip accent that he has finely tuned for safe entry through each of the hazardous checkpoints.

I only go there when I need something, obviously.

So I naively assumed that after his fill of filth, his mood had improved by the time we circumnavigated Terrey Hills and entered the hallowed doors of Flower Power. But as he located the closest outdoor setting to sit down at and set his stopwatch to ten minutes, I knew he wasn’t in the mood to play at plant shopping.

My mission: to purchase four plant pots within the limitations of an accountant’s Victorian budget, in the allocated time slot. I managed to identify the usual budget restraints pretty quickly by the grunt of  ‘f*ck me’, as I casually picked up the first pot to catch my eye, (before I’d even had the chance to visualize the Agave plant potted in it).

Shopping under pressure for the ‘ultimate’ set of plant pots is difficult. After eight minutes, I had reached a nervous state of panic, so overwhelmed was I by the choice of just SO MANY similar capucchino-coloured pots, each as shockingly over-budget (and as, well, ceramic), as the next. At the ten minute mark, I crashed and burned as I heard the screech of intolerance emanate as he pushed his chair back and prepared to drag me out of the garden centre. In mortified shame and anger, (because this was the second time I’d come to the centre to complete this onerously dull task which had now sat on my to-do list for even longer than writing my book), I did the grown up thing and stormed off to the car in silence.

He should have started the car and said nothing of course. You’d think he’d have learned something over twenty years.

‘Well THAT was successful!’

(Red rag)

I erupted with more than a smattering of the F word. He erupted with some additional variations on the F word. I accused him of being a miserable F*ck. He told me I’d spoiled his weekend. (Rich).

‘GREAT!’ I screamed thought, (because I really am that childish).

And then we started laughing at how ridiculous HE is……or I am, (maybe).

He generously proffered me an olive branch, allowing me another ten minutes of his precious weekend to choose those f*cking plant pots even though, frankly, I no longer cared if those Agave had hung themselves in the courtyard.

It was definitely an apology.

And we went back into that garden centre, heads held high, and bought four of the most beautiful capucchino-coloured plant pots I have ever laid eyes on. It is an unwritten agreement that I will get them as part of my settlement in the divorce.

Spot of Colour courtesy of Canongirl2009 at www.flickr.com

http://blogs.homelife.com.au/gardening/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/gardening-blog/2012/jul/30/designing-small-gardens-tools

The Definition of Lazy

Now I would never classify myself as a lazy person, but when it comes to mundane domestic chores, I will be the first to admit that I always look for ways to cut corners.

Gardening falls into that category, as one of those mind-numbingly dull jobs that leaves me completely cold, and in the past I have tended to allocate that area of the domestic task pane to ‘men who can’, preferably of the hired, toned variety.

In my opinion, my abstinence from wielding potentially dangerous tools or risking the long-term health of my spine is a measure of intelligence, not a characteristic of idleness. And unfortunately, the old man, while being an expert at deciphering the techno gobbledygook of complex spreadsheets, fails to identify the intrinsic difference in functionality between a spade and a  hoe, and so fits into the category of a ‘man who can’t’.

How can I seriously be accused of being ‘lazy’ when the inner sanctum of our home makes this year’s House and Garden Best Home look like an African shanty house? You see, like most people I can focus my energies on activities that capture my interest, and I am absolutely anal about every aesthetic detail of the interior of my house, where even the dog is ‘antique white’.

Every accessory in my living area, for example, has a design purpose; nothing has simply been ‘put’ there and each creative element addresses a specific visual requirement. (Which is why gifts from friends invariably end up in the local op shop or are re-gifted).

Dirty dishes may pile up in the sink and washing often erupts from the laundry basket, but if a cushion errs a centimetre out of place on the sofa, I reach for the Valium. Two of the most memorably stressful occasions of my life involved losing decorative control in our home: the first, when my son decided to paint his room a colour that simply did not exist on the Dulux ‘whites’ chart, and the second, when the family decided to take control of decorating the Christmas tree.

But whereas, I could probably forge a career out of the interior decoration of my own home, when it comes to the challenges of garden maintenance, I am completely indifferent.

That’s not to say that I am a complete backyard philistine. I’m happy to be the ‘architect’ of a Jamie Durie style landscape, but I won’t get my hands muddy to achieve it. Aside from the obvious health reasons associated with gardening, and I have done several risk assessments, there is always the peril of that chance encounter with a rogue earthworm or slug which somehow always manage to burrow their way through my protective clothing, no matter how many layers I put on.

Interiors, au contraire, are for the sophisticate. There are a myriad of subliminal pleasures associated with the infusion of subtle light to a space, or a crushed silk cushion strategically placed on a vintage sofa. ‘Decorating’ is like a drug to me and no other stimulant affords me the same fix. I get a high from rummaging around flea markets and antique treasure troves in search of that perfect piece and if I spot ‘perfection’ amid the jumble, I have to remind myself to breathe. Swathes of decadent fabric, hand-painted wallpapers and any style of cushion excite me like a sugar-deprived toddler in a lolly shop. Cushions hold the place in my heart where my children should be. I might have stopped at two children, but my cushions seem to secretly multiply, by some reproductive process akin to binary fission.

Which brings me back to where this all started, when the old man accused me of laziness yesterday.You see, the old man has created this monumental list of tedious tasks for me to ‘achieve’ while I’m ‘between jobs’ to save money, (or in other words, I have become a source of cheap labour). I’ve managed to discount most of the list in my endless pursuit of personal creative fulfilment but painting the back deck held some vague appeal, and so with an uncharacteristically selfless effort (to keep him off my back), I decided to tackle this job first.

The stage was finally set. Overalls, protective eye goggles and a mild enthusiasm were all in place, and I was on the verge of really getting the party started with the sugar soap (!), when I stalled. I suddenly realised that we had forgotten to move these monstrous great plant pots from two corners of the deck, that had no doubt been re-gifted by the previous owners of our house!

Obviously, I did mentally debate how to resolve the problem for what must have been at least three minutes, before coming to the conclusion that even the marital fallout could not be as debilitating as a herniated disk and I proceeded to commit the apparently cardinal DIY faux-pas, of painting around the pots.

And he called me lazy!

Photos courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net