Alex James: The Great Escape

My concrete weed garden may be a mess, but I love it
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The Independent Online

I got quite excited when Dave the gardener asked where we should put the compost heap. I still can't decide. It might be worth making a feature of it.

I got quite excited when Dave the gardener asked where we should put the compost heap. I still can't decide. It might be worth making a feature of it.

I've come to love heaps. Heaps are the very essence of life on a farm; monuments to the recyclable. It's like getting a new pet - maybe not something like a dog or a monkey but perhaps something more at the tortoise or goldfish level of commitment. Heaps have a life of their own. There are many on the farm: some are getting smaller, some are growing. It's an evolving process. My all-time favourite pile, the crushed concrete, is shrinking. It gets used for filling up holes, tracks, sub-floors, runways, riding schools. It's been there maybe a year, this concrete mound, since we crunched up a two-acre concrete slab for making silage. Until now it's always looked like a huge pile of crushed concrete, but suddenly there's all kinds of sprouting savannah-style greenery emerging.

It's very life-affirming to see all these robust, vigorous shoots growing out of nothing but crushed-up concrete. It's the exact opposite of the Chelsea Flower Show, which celebrates the meticulous, the tidy and the planned. It would appal the judges, my concrete mountain-weed garden, but I love it. One of the main things living on a farm has taught me is to accept chaos and not to panic when things look untidy. Everything has to have an immediate purpose in the city, or it goes. Everything finds a use on the farm. It's miraculous. Sometimes it just takes a while to work out what it is.

The east face of the concrete is currently sheer and unconquerable, but yesterday I managed to make the north-western ascent. I smoked a fat cigar at the summit, a sort of farewell. This pile's days are numbered. I've now got my sights on a tree next to the house. It's a giant Wellingtonia, about 137ft tall. That will be my next ascent.

Most of the heaps are harmless and the prettiest flowers - poppies and forget-me-nots - are growing out of the rubble heaps that evolved from a couple of farm sheds we took down a few months ago.

The trickiest customer is a heap of tyres. It's hard to know what to do with tyres; you can't burn them, squash them or bury them. Nothing grows on them except a greeny mildew.

The only use I've spotted for them is in horse-riding schools, where they are shredded and used as a safety surface. Funnily enough, when I was in town this week I ran into an old friend - Abigail. I haven't seen her for years. She's moved. And she said the new home was great, except she lives next door to some horrible place that shreds tyres. Hmmmm.

alexjames@independent.co.uk

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