My grandson has given me back my garden | The Canberra Times

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Among his many gifts, my grandson has given me back my garden. In past years I performed all those unskilled routines fit for an untutored Australian gardener. I swore at the cord on the lawnmower, burned piles of leaves in the gutter, prayed for a drop of rain, delighted in the early arrival of jonquils, and fretted about trees entangled with power lines. Time moves on. Now the family takes turns to chide me whenever I am tempted to climb ladders to clear gutters. Balancing on uneven ground on a rickety wooden stepladder, hanging on to the bough you are about to cut, that is a job best done without any family scrutiny. My knees and back shame me after a couple of hours’ weeding or planting. My purchases from nurseries sometimes thrive, but often wither and die. Rudimentary Latin studies never induced me to show off by reciting the botanical names of plants. I have been taught to prune, but my pruning nowadays resembles a search-and-destroy operation. Then my grandson, Theo, focused and charmed every facet of my work outside. From Virgil to Jamaica Kincaid runs a long tradition of soppily banal writing about gardening. Those authors insist that gardening is both vocation and recreation. Working in the garden is meant to be spiritually therapeutic, physically beneficial and mentally clarifying. However overblown, not all that advice is silly. During lockdown, staying in the open air, earning your keep, revelling in a light wind or gentle shower and seeing the results of your labour are all serious, stabilising defences against melancholy. Adding a grandson to the mix, however, gives every task zip and fun. I had never expected a young helper in the garden. I suspect that, if Millennials will not iron their clothes, they are also unlikely to weed the garden. Screen time is not compatible with attentively observing a flower bed. A 10-year-old, though, is still forming habits and working out what to love. MORE MARK THOMAS: Even if you are only 10, you can know exactly what you want. Instead of my few token bloomers near the front door, Theo lobbied for clumps of pansies mingled with the early jonquils. Under his direction, we have potted and trained raspberry canes. Purchases and placements of saltbush and kumquats have been matters for debate. I lose. A new worm farm is revelling in our kitchen refuse. A sweet pea has filled a gap at the front. Progress with each plant is meticulously monitored, first perused, then touched and smelled. In the process, any shortcomings in my care are politely noted and implicitly deplored. The garden responds. After drought, the hailstorm and bushfires, Theo has timed his entrance perfectly. He has brought rain. In addition, he comes with an intense eagerness to learn. Finally, I have someone to teach how deep and wide to dig a hole for a new plant. Skipping a generation, I have found a new gardener who aches to master the secateurs, to grow from seeds, to water judiciously and to use a saw without any grown-up hovering nearby. I guide (sort of), Theo helps, and we both know, enjoy and truly own the land around the house. In addition, we have encouraged an abundance of other friends into the garden. They need the bonus food and – largely – leave our herbs alone. Our gardening is accompanied by a gaudy rainbow of raucous cockatoos, galahs and rosellas. They blithely guts themselves while we drag by a sack of manure. Daffodils have now joined the jonquils, the first buds are out, renewal in spring awaits. We dig on.


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