A gentle stroll up to my local garden centre today found it positively buzzing with punters – very unusual for a Monday morning, but there they were, gazing at foxgloves and jostling one another at the seed rack over the last packet of kohlrabi. I had gone up there looking for some bulbs in flower to populate my square front bed with, but there simply weren’t enough to make a display, so I showed excellent restraint and came back with some thin wire (with which I hope to mess with the squirrels – more on this later), a nice, thin, sharp trowel which I think may prove helpful with dandelions, and some grass seed.
For yes, it is time for lawn maintenance.
Like any right-thinking person, I loathe lawn maintenance. It’s one of those jobs – like hand-shampooing a carpet – which has to be done periodically, but yields only the reward of things not getting any crapper. Which is to say: no obvious reward at all. Plus the grass looks awful after raking – beaten up, with bald patches and everything just lying there, fagged out. It looks like those Daily Fail photographs of poor Hilda, 86, who was beaten by youths for her pension.
It’s also bloody hard work.
I got a quarter of my tiny little lawn raked hard before I’d had enough, got a blister and started to get sore arms, but my effort was rewarded with a large black bin-liner full of moss. That grass hasn’t had a decent going-over in recent years, and it shows. Largely, this is because I don’t have the energy, and on days when I do have some energy, the prospect of doing the whole thing – which, even on my small lawn, would represent a solid couple of hours’ hard work – is daunting. So I’ve decided to do it in chunks, take a few days’ rest, then do the next bit.
Once the whole thing is raked it’s time for forking and feeding. When that’s done, I fill in any declivities with a bit of sandy topsoil and re-seed the whole thing. That bit of the job is deeply enjoyable.
I found one leatherjacket while raking. If there’s one there must be others. It’s that time of year when you start thinking about pre-empting whatever pests will plague you once the growing season takes off. This year for the first time I’m using nematode control for some pests – notably slugs, snails, vine weevils and leatherjackets. I had intended only to use slug and snail control, but will probably now dose for all three. If you get this done early in the season, it makes an enormous difference to the garden later in summer. As the soil warms up, the newly-hatched snail-babies fall prey to the nematodes, they therefore do not have a chance to breed, and come May, when your lupins set forth the tender embryos of flower heads, they have a fighting chance. I don’t use poisons and I don’t want to eliminate slugs and snails entirely, just thin the baying crowd a bit. My garden is designed to attract and provide safe haven for amphibians. They like a bit of mollusc to munch on.
My early efforts brushing aphids off the roses in February have paid off. The few – literally less than 20 – sulky hangers-on that clung to the fresh growth today were brushed off again.
Now to the real battle of the year: squirrels. The bird feeders must go up in the next week. I will be stringing them between two enormously tall fence posts in the sunny corner of the garden. This is where it all starts to get a bit Sun Tzu, because you can’t just whack a length of washing line across the gap and hang your feeders from it. The squirrels will be on that in minutes, hand-over-hand along the line, like pirates boarding a clipper. If you string the line slackly, the squirrels may have a harder time, but too slack, and your feeders will hang so low they stand a decent chance of jumping onto them from ground level (or from nearby bushes or garden furniture). In previous years I have defeated them using a combination of slack, plastic-coated washing line and good location. That isn’t an option any more, since the old washing line is gone.
This year I’m stringing with very thin plastic-coated wire. At each end (subject to availability), I intend to incorporate a spring or bungee. The idea is to create something which, when additional weight goes on it, becomes very unstable. We shall see.
We repeat this war, every year. Every year I have won, following the squirrels’ crushing defeat of me in ’05, when one managed to unseat an entire feeder-load of peanuts onto the ground, ate almost all of them, and then spent what remained of the day motionless and spherical, straddling my garden fence with its arms and legs dangling down, peering into my living room with the smugly jaded expression of one who has lunched on some other fellow’s expense account.