PsychoGeography: #90: The buddleia of suburbia

Share
Related Topics

My friends Tony and Elaine have hit upon the ultimate solution to gardening - they've carpeted their backyard. When they moved in a couple of years ago they told me laying this 15ft square off-cut was purely to stifle the great hanks of bindweed which infested the little plot, and soon they'd begin tilling with a vengeance. Recently, however, they've discussed recarpeting the garden on account of the stench of rotten underlay. Well, to carpet your garden once may be a weedkiller, but to carpet it twice looks suspiciously like a lifestyle.

Not that I'm critical, you understand - on the contrary; with its twist pile, white plastic chairs, wonky wooden table and tattered parasol, Tony and Elaine's garden has the virtue of making explicit what is implicit in most suburban gardens. Namely, that these are really outdoor rooms, as far removed from nature's grandeur as Jack Straw is from statesmanship. Besides, they're only part of a growing trend. Modern gardens are chock-full of furniture, pergolas, decks, heaters, lamps, barbecues, Jacuzzis and candles. They mostly make little pretence to be anything other than roofless rumpus rooms where lighting and temperature control are subject to cosmic vagary.

I'm not talking about serious gardens here, the kind tended by people who read books on the subject, but the family garden where dogs, kids and sunburnt drunks graze in uneasy proximity. My own awkward relationship with gardens is rooted in childhood. We lived in a high-privet-density location, and such was the mania for topiary that it was often difficult to tell whether the woman in the green coat, or the green car gliding past in the road, were real or slightly shaggy simulacra, artfully shaped and then mysteriously animated. My father had little time for gardening, although he quite liked to quote Tennyson. "Come into the garden, Maude," he would declaim, and my mother would inevitably complete the couplet: "And mow the fucking lawn."

Mow the lawn and, of course, clip the hedges. Mother did try with the garden. She got us kids to grow nasturtiums, tomato plants and runner beans. She had a chequerboard terrace lain with oblong, concrete slabs; then planted geraniums in the oblong beds. Then she held drinks parties at which she wore a muumuu and served Chianti (this, after all, was the 1970s). By contrast I liked nailing bits of wood to the oak tree, hurling rowan berries like grapeshot and digging holes. Bigger and bigger holes, until aged 13 and heavily under the influence of Terry Jacks's seminal death ditty Seasons in the Sun, I dug a hole in the garden so deep that I needed a ladder to descend to the bottom and props to prevent subsidence. I only stopped when I hit the water table - try doing that in a contemporary garden!

In retrospect it wasn't so much a grave I was trying to dig as an escape tunnel. I wanted out of suburbia so bad it hurt. I wanted to go somewhere - anywhere - where there weren't so many contentious allotments. I needed money to do this, so I had to go from door to door hawking the only skill I had - gardening. Well, skill is perhaps an overstatement: I could mow lawns, clip hedges and do the weeding. On the whole the punters were pleased with my services. I suspect they, like me, wanted the geometric lines of their own living rooms ruled on to this obdurate vegetation. However, one man saw fit to express his dissatisfaction (when I'd transformed his head-high rhododendron into a black stump) by chasing me down the road wielding the very electric clippers I'd so effectively employed.

None of this is to say that I don't enjoy a garden - I do. I can even be moved to undertake my own improvements. Living in Oxfordshire in the early 1990s, I felt driven to construct a large fence around the orchard that surrounded our house. I bought fence posts, a sledgehammer, tinkling bundles of wire fencing. I dug, hammered and strung for what seemed like - and in fact were - months. I felt like Levin in Anna Karenina, reconnecting with my sturdy, peasant roots. The aim of the fence was to stop the children getting on to the farm track - but amazingly they contrived to somehow step through the strands of wires. Fiendish little devils. Levin spent the better part of the winter in his study, experimenting with his seed drill in ways its manufacturer had not intended.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A sculpture illustrating the WW1 Christmas Truce football match in Liverpool  

It's been 100 years since the Christmas Truce, but football is still changing the world

Jim Murphy and Dan Jarvis
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there