Mud On the Road

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No Nettles At Chelsea

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

There Are No Nettles At The Chelsea Flower Show

Wired and Wonderful
     We're going to an early evening party at the Royal Chelsea Hospital next week followed by an exclusive after-hours wander  around the stalls and exhibits of the RHS Royal Chelsea Flower Show. It's great fun and quite a privilege. You can't buy anything because the stall holders are shutting up shop, but there are no crowds and that makes it very special.

     We were lucky enough to be invited to the same party last year and I came home brimming with ideas and enthusiasm for our little garden. I always imagined that, one day, I would have a garden so beautiful that people would want to visit us just to see our garden.

     By last summer we had already made great strides: removing an ugly concrete path, building and plastering a new wall, putting in new beds and climbers and shrubs and countless bulbs and a random sprinkling of seeds for good measure. Then there was the erection of the Man Shed...

     The plan for the garden, (she said, importantly) was to: 'retain the open feel and outlook but have different planting areas and moods to suit the differing weather and soil conditions in each corner...'  There are four. Corners that is.

    Twelve months on and I am pleased to report that the scent of orange blossom wafts across the hen house as the two large Choisya's which I planted, rashly, I suspect,  in the very dry raised bed,  are coming into bloom.

     What's the plural of a Giant Allium? Well, we've got about ten of those. I'm terribly proud of them. They are gorgeous and they have survived the recent wind and lashing rain and are now nearly three feet high and topped by  bulbous green spikes from which  pin-prick purple flower heads are beginning to poke.  

     I gave all the roses, climbing and shrub and mostly David Austin, a good hard prune in February having read somewhere in some  Sunday paper that that was a good idea.
     The fig tree in the pot is in bud. Which I find pretty heartening given that one side of the terracotta pot cracked and fell off in the snow and we haven't replaced it yet and the Mediterranean Summers promised by climate change have yet to materialise.
     At least five different types of clematis have suddenly and most gratifyingly  set off in some sort of a race against the trellised fence and appear to be on the cusp of flowering. And that’s about it. Oh well, you could count the mint which has emerged from the depths of a blue pot surprising both me and its mintly self; a clump of chives which has gone mad. The rosemary is sturdily alive and the grass, well, yes, it is a lush succulent green.

     The grass actually looks good enough to eat which is possibly why Myrtle, our 2 year old boxer, keeps eating it. With disastrous results in the boxer bottom department – natively referred to, loudly,  as 'Aaaaagh! Klingon at six o’oclock!’ And which is why we keep telling her to stop it.
     And then there are the weeds. Nettles mostly. Great waving forests of them. Everywhere. As far as the eye can see and the ankle can be grazed. There are no nettles at the Chelsea Flower Show.

     I told myself a week ago:    'We must weed those nettles before they get too big to handle.'
    Evidently Shedley didn't hear me saying this. Not the ‘we’ bit anyway. He was probably getting the lawn mower out of the shed at the time. Or putting it back. Or getting it out again.

     And I failed to put nettle weeding on my To Do list. And now the nettles  are too big to handle. Way too big to handle. Now they are like something out of The Day of the Triffids.

     Some of our  nettles are well over two feet high. Several of them are well on the way to reaching three feet. All of them look really vicious and nasty.

     They are the horticultural equivalent of shaven-headed football hooligans after dark and with several cans of Stella Wife Beater on board.

     Many of our nettles are in flower. The flowers are not attractive either. They are white it's true and many of them are growing in  my 'white bed' which was supposed to be my special 'Sissinghurst  Castle bed' but is only full of nettles.

     The white nettle flowers are the hooligan-nettles' nasty progeny: reared to sting and maim and grievously wound. And spawn more nettles.

     All of our nettles are now growing in these forest arrangements all over the garden and not in the clusters which I might have been be prepared for.

     I think of them as 'nettles in variety'. I had sort of hoped the bantams would eat them but the bantams disdain the nettles. The bantams prefer to nibble on roses and herbs and what's left of the hostas.

     We used to grow nettles like this when we had our allotment off Stockbridge High Street.

     I used to pretend that, as well as the garlic and carrots and cabbages, beans, rhubarb, potatoes, gooseberries, raspberries and countless other things which we grew very nicely thank you, we were also deliberately cultivating nettles with which to make organic nettle  soup or tea.

     I can see I may again have to pretend that I am growing nettles to make seven nettle shirts with which  to save my seven princely brothers who have been turned into swans by a sorceress, leaving me sworn to silence until the day my task is complete and my brothers' salvation assured.


     And then there's the lawn.

   Shedley refers to it as 'the lawn' and he likes me to refer to it as The Lawn. Shedley has had lawns in his past you see: other lawns, other gardens. Until me and this garden and this lawn.
     Yes, Shedley has known real lawns, grown-up, professional lawns; the sort of lawns you  eat cucumber sandwiches on  wearing big floppy straw hats and drinking Pimms on an endless soft-focused  Merchant-Ivory summer’s day.

     The sort of lawns you need a  lawn-tractor to mow because the lawns are so ample and significant; the sort of lawns I bet he mowed stripes into because that's precisely the sort of thing a Shedley would be wont to do if he had a real lawn and a tractor.

     Whereas our lawn is an amateur lawn.  Basically it’s just grass.

     Like I said earlier, it's green enough and succulent looking, providing you view it from below; from our kitchen window for example. From our kitchen window it presents an suitable  lawn-like vista.

      But if you stand on it and attempt to walk on it you will see that it is not a vista at all. It's not even flat. It's more like the surface of the moon, scarred by small, often quite hazardous cavities and craters.

     Our lawn is pockmarked with roundels of scorched grass where the girl-dogs have been; pockets of bare earth where the bantams have scratched a dust bath and weird alien shredded patches where I, the wife,  have assiduously scraped dog poo and ok, along with the dog poo, I may, diligently, have removed a bit of poo-smeared grass as well, a technique which makes Shedley quite animated and a tad hysterical when he sees it in practice.

     Overall the lawn just makes Shedley depressed. Because what Shedley  likes to do best of all in the garden, is to mow a lawn and, really, you need something mounted on tank tracks to get around ours and a very vivid imagination.

     Still. We're going to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show next week. I feel sure we'll be inspired. I'm going to get up tomorrow morning and napalm the nettles and then submit the result to the Turner Prize.
     Shedley has a cunning  if somewhat retro-bordering-on-the-reactionary plan: he’s going to lock up the dogs, the chickens and the wife for the whole summer, bulldoze  the lawn, flatten the ground with a roller and then re-sow it, lovingly, by hand, seed by single seed.

     Or maybe we’ll just buy some of that plasticky Astro-turf which now comes in six colours including red. That would give the lawn mower something to chew on.


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