Friday 15 December 2017

I'm an idiot gardener

Your reporter is a big fan of Andrew Collyer and his regular practical gardening column in this newspaper. However, while it makes for good reading, Andrew's advice sometimes goes over the head of this particular fan.

After a summer spent making a mess of his vegetable patch, David Medcalf offers a few thoughts on how to dodge complete cultivation catastrophe. Gerry Daly or Monty Don will find nothing of interest here.

The 'Idiot's Guide to Gardening' may resonate instead with those who cannot tell an aphid from an aspidistra, or a British Queen from a French bean. No prizes for guessing who the idiot is.


Nettles sting. Thistles prickle. It makes obvious sense to defend skin against attack when weeding or handling any of the many plants which produce rashes, itches and allergic reactions. But the Idiot Gardener prefers to wade in gung-ho with naked hands rather than make a modest investment in a pair of Marigolds or splash out on a pair of specialist gloves specifically designed for the job. He (for women would surely never be so stubborn) seems actually to enjoy evenings spent attempting to excavate all the dirt that has accumulated under his finger nails during a day's labour.


Gardening is a form of warfare and the Idiot Gardener finds himself battling grimly on numerous fronts. Carrot fly is never to be under-estimated. Those lovely butterflies which hover over the cabbage drills are responsible for ravenous caterpillars. As a general rule, suspect that any beetle seen scuttling around the place is up to no good.

But the flies, the caterpillars and the beetles are mere guerilla sideshows compared with the monstrous regiment of slugs and their snail allies of the armoured division. They lurk under every leaf. They strike when plants are young and vulnerable. They throw themselves on those little blue pellets designed to kill them like infantry in the Great War falling before machine gun fire until sheer force of numbers secures an advance.

Unstoppable. Unrelenting. The Idiot Gardener hates slugs and with good reason, just as theatrical costumiers view moths with a mixture of loathing and despair.


Celebrity gardeners are forever waxing on about how their produce is more delicious than shop bought. The Idiot Gardener, on the other hand, seldom finds that he has anything much worth bringing to the table. And whenever he succeeds in harvesting, the end product rarely lives up to expectation on the plate. More often, it is only pride in having seen a crop through to fruition which disguises the inadequacies of his offerings.

Carrots that register like earth on the palate. Flavour-free lettuce that fails to register at all. Peas that are more grey than green while tasting vaguely of plasticene. Potatoes with strange leopard patterned skins that are not so much balls of flour as balls of lead.


Yes, potatoes. There are few greater thrills to be had out of doors than digging up great big spuds. Growing them is an accomplishment occasionally within the scope of even the Idiot Gardener. But beware the heartbreaking ravages of phytophthora infestans, the fungus which triggered the Famine. Nasty old phytoph is still around one and a half centuries later, still capable of reducing the most prosperous looking batch of Kerr's Pinks to stinking black mush in what seems like the blink of an eye.

This Idiot Gardener has vowed to spray all round him next year before Met Eireann ever issues its first warning that conditions are ripe for the blight...

I've stopped crying now, thanks.


The problem is that no-one actually wants to eat radishes. 'Put them in a salad' is the cry from condescending guests, offered with every show of enthusiasm. They pretend to be impressed that something resembling food has come from the Idiot Gardener's vegetable patch. The same guests discreetly push the radishes to the side of their plates while their host dreams the impossible - producing a prize-winning parsnip for the Castlebridge Show or growing a marrow big enough to stuff. Oh to grow a leek more then three millimetres in diameter!

There are no prizes for radishes.


Cut-price secateurs or hoes or trowels may fill a gap in the Idiot Gardener's arsenal but there is no place in the tool shed for a cheap spade. Before purchase, assess whether the spade under consideration is capable of levering out a large boulder stuck in the earth without being damaged. If the answer is 'No' or even 'Maybe' then start saving for one which will pass the test. The same applies to forks.

Veggie growing is full of pitfalls and the Idiot Gardener must accept that the road to horticultural heaven leads through a minefield paved with frequent disappointment. Yet this idiot will spend the winter studying his seed catalogues ready to return to the fray undaunted next spring. At least it has been a half decent year for the broad beans.

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