September 20th, 2009


il faut cultiver notre jardin

We finally bought a lawnmower and mowed the lawn. That is, we mowed the area we're choosing to call the lawn, in the hope that a combination of linguistic imperialism and rotating knives will gradually tame the lawless forces of nature. Significant portions of the "lawn" were in fact large clumps of nettles and brambles, dark forests and thickets among the rolling fields of the rest of the garden; one corner was almost entirely bindweed; and another was a sad little rubbish-heap of stones and tiles and bits of wood.

Some of the nettles succumbed to the mower, others got secateured down to the ground, some lived to sting my wrists another day (three-quarter-length sleeves and short gardening gloves are a bad combination for nettle-wrangling). I pulled up about a mile of bindweed (and removed a pot of paint from underneath it), hacked back a few brambles (eating the blackberries first) and sorted through the miniature midden: a heap of broken tiles, some lumps of concrete, several half-bricks, some scrappy pieces of wood and MDF, a couple of plastic bottle-lids, an old cigarette lighter, and a large curved white bone like a rib. Bleached bones and stony rubbish. My own tiny waste land.

In the process of attacking the abode of stones and the pit of vines I uprooted an army of woodlice, several small spiders, one enormous spider (the sort so big that I could hear its feet clacking on the wood of the fence as it stalked indignantly out of reach), two small brownish frogs, an even smaller yellowish frog which sprang up out of the chickweed like a jack-in-the-box, small yellow-shelled snails and even smaller slugs, a tiny caterpillar all curled up like a soft green ammonite, and a couple of huge hairy caterpillars which seemed to be doing their best to battle the bindweed by eating it all.

To the spiders and frogs I must be Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds. No, nothing so important, just some sudden hairy mammal crashing oafishly through their threads and burrows. I hate wrecking these little ecosystems, I would love to leave the beetles and caterpillars to their business and take my big feet of fail elsewhere; but like the rest of my species I was born selfish, and the creatures were in the space that will be my vegetable patch, and the nettles and brambles were in the space that will be my tidy little English lawn (or at least some soft grass to sit on in summer). I have never been a committed gardener; I hack at things in fits and starts, small splashes of effort followed by long stagnant periods of apathy, and I think underlying the surface laziness (and the general sense of futility which taints all tasks which are explicitly fighting entropy) is a feeling that my attempts to curate the wilderness are not just hubristic but an offence against the order of things. It doesn't help that the only plants I recognise are weeds: I can pick out our groundsel, chickweed, nettles, dandelions, bindweed, brambles, rosebay willowherb ... but show me a 'proper' plant and I'll shrug in confusion. I like the look of the bright flowers and well-defined leaves of well-ordered gardens, but I know the raggedy plants that grow out from under things. I pull them up in handfuls every now and then out of some misplaced sense of duty, but they grow back in a heartbeat.

Every time I lifted a stone, something small scurried out from underneath it, rushing around in the unwelcome light, a many-legged burst of busy energy, until it found another dark hiding place.

I think part of my problem is that I empathise too much with the insects.