Growing pains: Who needs the hassle of a garden?

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The Independent Online
For all the hype about how gardening is becoming the fashionable pastime, few people under the age of 40 will admit that they enjoy it. This is perfectly natural. Gardening is tedious, time-consuming and ultimately soul-destroying, especially in London.

If my experience is typical, there must be thousands of youngish homeowners across the capital who are beginning to wonder why they bought a garden flat in the first place. Don't be fooled by the fact that your local Homebase is full of thirtysomethings wearing lumberjack shirts and expensive industrial boots. What most of them know about horticulture could be written on the back of a slug pellet. They have come to buy shears, sheds and creosote because they have no choice: they are slaves to a hobby which is as addictive as it is frustrating.

When it came to starting work on our garden, guilt was by far the strongest motivator. Besides, after more than a year of evasive behaviour, the excuses had begun to run out. The decorating was nearly completed; relatives were rushing unprompted to give us their old tools; our weekends seemed depressingly free of engagements.

Yet despite many expletive-filled Sundays spent digging, weeding, feeding and reseeding, the patch of green and brown outside my lounge remains a sorry excuse for a lawn: marshland at the back, moonscape at the front. The pear tree has never been the same since its close encounter with a bonfire three years ago, while the best that can be said about the new fence is that it has a certain comical charm, tilting in the wind at anything from 80 to 45 degrees.

Veteran gardeners often talk about the life-affirming sense of achievement their hobby brings them. They take great pride in their successes and accept their failures with a philosophical good grace, season after season.

Mother nature has clearly taught them respect and rewarded them for their loyalty. I, on the other hand, am a difficult child; a fully paid up member of the 18-30 instant gratification club: demanding, impatient, and given to sulking when crossed. Mother nature knows how to deal with people like me. She ignores me completely or sends next door's cat to undo all my work.

Once in a while my parents offer encouragement in the form of cuttings with exotic names that are instantly forgotten. Most friends, however, remain utterly unimpressed by my endeavours. Like characters from a Harry Enfield sketch, they stand around watching me scatter grass seeds for the umpteenth time, saying: 'You don't wanna do it like that. You wanna turf the whole lot.'

Ask them to lend a hand and watch their expressions flash from mild disdain to outright horror. Yet these are the same people who always ring up during the summer begging me to throw an outdoor drinks party. As I have no wish to spend the following day picking cigarette butts out of the flower tubs, I usually decline.

In the not-too-distant past, bob-a-job week allowed gardeners to offload some of the most boring tasks on young boys in green jerseys and short trousers. For the price of a packet of crisps, cub scouts could be persuaded to rake the lawn, trim the borders and weed the flowerbed. On one occasion I even agreed to rebuild someone's rockery. In the shires, this tradition may still be alive and well. In my part of town, you'd be lucky to find a single boy scout, let alone one who'd let you exploit his labour for under pounds 5 an hour, plus expenses.

Living in the middle of a terrace only adds to the misery, as there is no direct access from the garden to the street. Anything going to or coming from the garden must also journey through the lounge, the kitchen and along a stairway - a process that invariably results in soiled carpets, foul smells, chipped door frames and a hefty cleaning bill.

To make matters worse, we own just the first half of the garden. The freeholder who lives on the first floor owns the rest. For a while this situation suited both parties. We set about creating what we hoped would become a lush urban oasis, he tended his vegetables. Then war broke out. In true sitcom style, we now find ourselves locked in a dispute over four wooden fence posts and a crumbling path. He's taking Polaroids of our 'wanton destruction; I'm writing pseudo-legal letters like a puffed up member of the Rotary Club.

Obsessed as I've become about growing a lawn fit to lie on, there are healthy signs that I won't turn into a backyard bore for a while yet. I find it impossible to feign interest in programmes such as Gardener's World and always make sure I have an excuse at hand when my girlfriend suggests a trip to Columbia Road market.

All that misguided optimism is just too heartbreaking to behold.

(Photograph omitted)

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