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Sign of the times: Sow And You Shall Weep

When it comes to tending his garden, John Hearne doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet — mainly because he’s already killed it all

The best thing about the winter is that you no longer have to feel guilty about your crappy garden. The weather's so awful that there's absolutely nothing you can do out there, and all those crazy resolutions about water features, pergolas and vegetable patches will be long forgotten by the time it's possible to venture outdoors again without catching hypothermia. Don't get me wrong: I love the outdoors; I just believe it's best viewed through a window with a can of beer in your hand. I'm with my wife's uncle of whom it is said that he gets all his fresh air watching Emmerdale.

Of course, once in a while, there'll be a sunny weekend and we'll be after watching one of those gardening programmes which make out that any gobshite can lay a patio with a few bits of twine and a pair of knee pads. We'll take down the gardening books and go at them with yellow stickies. I'll get all charged up with gardening zeal and decide to "sort this bloody garden out once and for all". Honourable sentiments indeed, but the sheer size of the job just paralyses me with indecision. Where to start? Usually, I end up doing the following: 1) Move large stones from one part of garden to another. 2) Dig deep hole. 3) Admire hole. 4) Insert stones into hole. 5) Change mind, put stones back where they were in the first place. 6) Ponder hole, perhaps for an hour or two. 7) Fill in hole. 8) Stand in middle of lawn, wondering if it's lunchtime.

When we moved in, I thought: "Right, garden -- all we need here is some grass and a few trees." To cut a very, very long story short, we got them. Grass: check. Trees: check. But it still doesn't really feel like a garden.

Take the lawn. I don't know how it happened, but there's no real grass in it any more, just this spongy brown moss and a funny, spiky yellowish growth. It's disgusting. There are also the trees. They're all still out there, attached to poles just like the nice man in the garden centre advised, but they're black and shrunken and look as though they've just been burned at the stake.

It's the same inside the house. Potted plants? Can't keep them alive. We've any amount of pots in the press under the stairs, guilty little relics of the fact that I've killed 'em all. I'm the Pol Pot of potted plants. In my defence, my wife has blood on her hands, too. Part of the problem is that when we get a new plant and bring it home, either we both water it or we both assume the other is watering it.

Either way, the plant dies. Recognising this fact, when we lashed out a small fortune on a bamboo plant a few years back, I was made Minister for Bamboo. That's how it works in our house. My wife is Taoiseach and I am president -- a symbolic role with few executive powers.

She also holds all the major portfolios, while I content myself with a few junior ministries: DIY with Special Responsibility for Lighting the Fire, that sort of thing. So, for a few weeks, I was diligent; watering the bamboo regularly, not weeing in it when the downstairs bathroom was occupied and so on. Of course, it died.

It was probably dead from the moment I lugged it from the boot of the car into the hall. I frantically scanned the internet for information on bringing bamboo plants back to life, but most reanimation rituals were impractical. Where to get a half pint of chicken's blood without drawing attention to oneself? So, like all good ministers, I fervently denied that the bamboo was dead. Of course then, we had all these parrot-sketch conversations. ("Look, my lad, I know a dead bamboo when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now.")

I had to admit defeat and lug it down to the bottom of the garden, where it lies today still half hidden by the evergreen remains of a two-year-old Christmas tree, which is about the only thing in the place that is showing any sign of life.

If I had fairies living at the bottom of the garden, I'd probably have accidentally butchered them all with the lawnmower long ago.

John Hearne can kill flowers at 100 paces


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