We’ve been to the hospital three times since Christmas.
Upon reflection, it is a miracle the garden only caused one of those visits. The first two times were for my partner, who’d managed to be both ill and injured – in that order. The third time… well, I’ll get to that.
The lead up to spring has been a busy time in my little garden on the edge of the Epping Forest in darkest, deepest, East London. But it hasn’t all been beer and skittles (which is probably just as well, as neither of those things actually grow). Rather, it has been a period of peaks and troughs. Literally.
I’ve had to rely on a few heroes, just to survive.
An adventure begins…
Much of the focus of late has been around the big garden bed at the end of the backyard. I say big, it’s 2.14 metres by 2.14 metres. I’d already planted a dogwood tree in it, Cornus kousa var. Chinensis — a tree I fell in love with at the Chelsea Flower show last year.
Here’s the blank-ish canvas. (Excuse all the rubbish.)
The problem back here has been that I have way too much soil. The landscapers who did the paving bought two tonnes of it, and wouldn’t stop shoveling it in until I’d taken the lot. It was like watching a belligerent grandmother shoveling an entire bag of sweets into a favourite, soon-to-be-diabetic, grandchild.
But, what to do with it all?
I decided to get creative and build in a level change. I wanted the ground to be higher at the back, so I decided I needed some kind of barrier to protect the fence.
If I could pinpoint one moment where things started to go wrong, this would be it.
In which our green-fingered princess has a DIY misadventure
Remember Blue Van Man, the unhinged self-appointed neighbourhood warrior with connections to the Gestapo, who screamed abuse at me when I left a wooden palette out on the verge for council collection?
Well, recently I inherited another palette and, rather than tempt fate, I kept it sitting in the front garden, quietly disturbing the peace.
I decided to cut it in half and use it to create my barrier. “Simples,” as the TV meerkat says.
The phrase “they don’t make them like that any more” was coined for this palette. Sturdy doesn’t begin to describe it. It was nailed harder than the Riverdance wardrobe mistress after the last encore of the night.
I cut the palette in half then tried to bash the back of it off with a rubber mallet. The back reluctantly came off the first side and I let it drop to the ground. No wonder it was so hard to break apart: the nails were a good two inches long, fat as pencils, and rusted with age. They stood there, mocking me — solid, proud, erect, and glinting in the evening sun (a sentence perhaps more suited to Twilight fan-fiction than a gardening blog, I grant you).
(Yeah sorry, that gif makes me feel a bit ill, too.)
“Must remember those nails are there,” I thought, as I set to work with the mallet on the second half of the palette.
I bashed and bashed and bashed, but it just wouldn’t come apart. I was bashing so hard and concentrating so deeply and getting so frustrated that, when finally I realised this thing was tougher than I was, I dropped the mallet in exhaustion, let the palette slump against the wall, stepped back to assess the lack of damage, and enjoyed the “I’m really disappointed in myself” sensation of three rusty nails sliding right through my shoe and into my foot.
More on that later.
Here’s how the palette looked in situ, several days later, once I’d calmed the fuck down.
There’s snow need to make a treacherous journey (in which our princess meets her first hero)
Hard landscaping this area required two trips out into the countryside, to two separate reclamation centres – one just north of London, and one so far south it was basically in Hastings.
The trip north was to buy (and I’m sorry to say this, Dad) more rocks. Oh, and a camellia.
They say no garden is complete without water. It’s much a like a bath in that sense. My trip south was to collect my water feature – a couple of old stone water troughs.
When I jumped in the car on the morning of this journey, there was a light dusting of snow in the street. It was glorious. As I drove further and further south, the snow got deeper and deeper. At one point, it looked like I was driving through a Christmas card. It was magical.
About 10 minutes out from my destination, however, I found myself sliding through villages on windy, icy roads, buried under a foot of snow, heart in my throat, screaming like a teenage girl on a rollercoaster, waiting to at any moment glide as gracefully as Jane Torvill through the living room window of someone’s mock-Tudor cottage.
Once safe at the reclamation yard, I sought out the troughs. Everything was covered in snow and, to make matters trickier, all the price tags were in the basins of the troughs, which had filled with water, and frozen.
Explaining the situation, I asked the woman in the office if she could give me a hand with prices. I thought she’d perhaps look them up on a computer but instead she came out into the snow, bashed through the ice with her bare hands and fearlessly plucked out the price tags.
I mean, she could have dragged me onto her horse and galloped off to a castle and I couldn’t have felt more like a total fucking princess.
While I was standing there, manfully watching, it occurred to me the troughs were stupidly heavy. There was just no way I would be able carry them home in the car – not even in ideal driving conditions.
“We can’t move them in this weather anyway,” I was informed. “They’re frozen. They’ll crack.”
I gave that look men give when they’ve been told something they didn’t know by someone for whom that piece of information was plainly obvious.
“But we can deliver,” she said.
As I was driving gingerly home — with my receipt in my pocket and my self-confidence in a recycled Tesco plastic bag on the back seat — it dawned on me I could have just bought the troughs online.
Our princess has adventures in Schlepping Forest
The delivery truck arrived and a young man who looked a lot like the young woman I’d met at the reclamation yard asked for my help getting the troughs off the back.
I look back now at my naivety and marvel. How did I think I was going to carry these troughs by myself? As it was, it took two the two of us, several moments of clumsy terror, a bag trolley, and prayers to a God I don’t even believe in, to schlepp the two troughs into the backyard.
There is no side or rear entrance to our yard, so everything has to go through the house.
We gouged the skirting board in the hallway, took a huge chuck out of our (brand new) back step, and left a grease mark on our (brand new) paving.
I’d spent ages trying to come up with a name for my garden. I finally thought of one. Schlepping Forest.
It was time to put all the elements into place and create my raised garden bed.
Then I put the plants in. The feature plant is Camellia japonica var. Silver Anniversary. Underneath I’ve planted ferns – Asplenium, Dryopteris, and Polystichum – and Heuchera, just as I did in the earlier garden bed.
Later, I added in some Cyclamen coum I got off the clearance counter at B&Q, as they fit the woodland feel I’m trying to create.
Right. Back to the hospital.
The tart and the tetanus shot (in which our princess meets her second hero)
I stood on the nails at about 4.15pm. By 4.16pm I had calculated it had probably been 23 years since I last had a tetanus shot. So, I took myself off to the doctor.
The local doctor’s surgery (at the end of my street) wouldn’t see me because I wasn’t registered with them. They gave me a number to call.
I called the number and spent 15 minutes answering alarming and bizarre checkbox questions. “Has any part of your body been severed?” “Has anything turned green?” “Have you considered being treated by a vet?”
I was told to go the hospital for a tetanus shot. I got there at 6pm and joined the queue. I was 27th in line, which did not bode well for my evening. I left and drove (on my perforated foot) to another hospital, where I waited another hour to be seen.
I was sitting there, waiting for lockjaw’s sweet embrace, when a handsome 40-something nurse called my name.
Now I’m not saying he was as camp as Judy Garland riding a unicorn across a rainbow, but as he walked, glitter was tumbling out of his scrubs and onto the hospital floor.
Thank God, I thought. If anyone understands hating to queue, it’s a gay man (even an English one).
He assessed my foot and agreed I needed a tetanus shot. It was going to be another hour.
“An hour? Gosh,” I said. “My dog is at home alone waiting for his dinner.”
“Honestly, if you can give me the needle I can do it myself. Or, like, if you have a work experience kid…”
I battered my eyelashes.
“Come in behind this curtain, I’ll do you myself,” he said.
Behind the curtain, I went to take my jumper off so he could get at my arm with the needle.
“No, no. We do them in the leg at this hospital,” he said.
Fine, I thought. Whatever it takes.
I undid my belt and my jeans fell to the ground.
He knelt on the floor, face right by my crotch, and told me I might feel a little prick.
As the needle sank in, I wondered if he was actually qualified, or had just watched a lot of Carry On Nursing.
I didn’t care. I was home by 8.45pm.
The princess and the poop (in which our princess praises her third hero)
This wouldn’t be an awkward gardener blog without an uncomfortable amount of poop talk, so let me update you on the local dog-fouling problem. It appears one of my neighbours has really, really had enough.
And judging by this scene from my walk this morning, at least one of the dogs in the neighbourhood has got the message loud and clear.
But not my dog.
Here he is taking a shit out the front of Blue Van Man’s house.
Not all heroes wear capes.
Some of them wear leads. And this princess could not be more proud.
Join my garden journey progress from the start, here.
Read the next blog post in this series here.