Wednesday, 22 December 2010


My fingers hurt and I’m happy about it.

Perhaps I should explain a little and take you back to the start of the day.

This morning when I left for work we had snow and ice on the ground, my breath crystallised in the air and my nose quickly chilled. I was off to one of my favourite gardens, a beautiful place the owners had built up from nothing over the past 9 years that wrapped around a Virginia Creepered house and was quietly tucked away behind a large pair of private gates. As no one had been out in the garden much since the previous week most of the snow that had fallen was still un-trodden (though I did notice a set of prints across the crisp lawn) and it lay tranquil before me.
Now you may be thinking what can I be doing in a garden that is so covered? And you’d be right to think that. The ground was solid and impenetrable to spade or fork, plants lay shroud in a blanket of snow and I was already frozen before I had even started.
Well in truth there wasn’t a huge amount I could do but there are always a few jobs and today I had a large voracious rambling rose that had maybe been pruned once or twice in the time it had been in. It had now reached such proportions that it filled most the area around it with most of the flowers ending up hanging over the other side of their neighbours’ wall; it was in serious need of a good taming.

Amongst the tangle of snaggly branches there was much dead wood to be removed, the odd sneaky bramble limb trying to blend with the rose thorns around it, innumerable Ash seedlings, long strands of couch grass and a roll of wire fencing. As I say it was a large beast of a plant with truly vicious thorns though paradoxically small beautifully fragrant white flowers earlier in the year.
For most of the day I could be found trapped deep within, chopping out and taking down to the bare bones; leaving enough stem for any winters die back. It didn’t take too long to develop a large pile of dead and pruned rose beside me and here is where I began to run into trouble, you see behind me was the edge of the border and a drop of around five and a half feet whilst on the other side was a large hydrangea that the rose had also grown into. I was effectively trapped and tangled in the as yet unpruned part of the rose whilst also needing to chop an equally thorny wall up and drop into the garden bin.

I know some gardeners who will swear by a good pair of gloves. I’m not one of them. I like to get my hands dirty and physically make contact with whatever job I’m doing, even when that involves personal injury to me. There’s just something that feels right about soil under the fingernails and having to pick the spines out when you stop for a cuppa. Without wanting to sound too hippie, it’s all about the connection between the work and yourself, the days toil being written onto your hands.

After 6 hours of hacking, chopping, swearing, pruning, bleeding and sawing the rose was about two thirds done, my hands and fingers ached from the cold and thorns but overall I was a happy man.
You see this is what gardening’s about to me, it’s all very well pottering about in the summer stripped down to shorts and t-shirt whilst bees buzz about the numerous flowers but there’s always the balance. The days of cold drizzle when you’ve just discovered the water seeping through your jacket and you’ve still jobs to get done, the clearing rotting leaves from the gutters and bottom of ponds, the accidental hand in slightly buried cat poo and of course the pruning of large vicious shrubs.

So at the end of the day when I’m relaxing at home, a fresh cup of tea in hand and a reassuring ache in my hands I know it’s not only been a good day but that in some small way I’ve made a garden a little bit nicer and the world a little less thorny.