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  • Writer's pictureJuliette Wills

Gardener's (Mad) World

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

When your neighbour is really good at gardening and you're supremely rubbish at it, there's only one thing you can do - make them a cake and hope they'll be grateful enough to come and help you!

Neil is our street's gardening expert. I mean, there's nothing Neil doesn't know about gardening - well, there might be something but I haven't seen him scratch his chin at a question yet. When we first moved it was a bit mad as we'd never walked around the area, and saw so many houses in a two-day period that we only spent 10 minutes looking at ours before putting the offer in. Anyway, the weather on moving day was spectacular so once Gautier and my cousin had unloaded 4873 boxes of records and books and 89 boxes of my shoes (pretty much) we went for a walk around the block to see if we'd made a terrible mistake.

There are worse streets to live in

We hadn't. My, what a street! It was mid-August, and everything, everywhere was in bloom. Our street is on a stretch of the River Nene, and there's a bridge straddling two sides and a tiny marina - not as fancy as it sounds by any means - at one end. When we reached the bridge I gasped at the sight of an enormous courgette - well, marrow at this point - that was hanging over the railings, still attached to its stems. I'd never seen anything like it. It turns out that it was Neil's enormous courgette *coughs* but we would not meet Neil until some months later, when Squeaky, our cat, fell into the river (I told you nothing was simple with us) and Neil and another neighbour rescued her. More on that in the 'Cupboard Love' post in this section. Almost three years later, we're finally trying to sort our back garden out, and as lockdown hit, I decided to grow some veg. Me, growing veg - that's as unlikely as Donald Trump growing a brain cell. I planted courgettes, radishes, peppers and chillies. Neil brought me a squash seedling, Jola brought over three tomato plants and by the time my courgettes were ready to go outside all my chilli and pepper seedlings had died, which was a bit shit. I had so many courgette plants I began dreaming of them killing me as I slept, so I gave some to Carol, Neil, Jola and Pauline. Half my radishes did well and looked like radishes, the other half carried on growing to the size of turnips and tasted more like turnips. They may have, in fact, been turnips.

I made a radish and it looked like Bert from Sesame Street. The sore bit on my thumb is from feeding a swan some oat cakes (I make them for him) and his teeth caught me. Swan teeth are SHARP, in case you're wondering

Bert from Sesame Street: see?

My mum had given me a clematis cutting some months before which was very sad in a pot and needing planting. I called upon Neil for help. He duly arrived - socially distancing, of course - with compost, that minging fish, blood and bone stuff (vom) a shovel (we don't have one, we're not real adults) a sunhat with a hole in it, twine and sticks and another clematis cutting from his garden. He got to work while I stood idly by, making appreciative noises and coffee. When he'd finished he watered 'the roots, not the plant' with tepid water. That was a new one on me. 'If you'd just woken up you wouldn't want a freezing cold shower, you'd want a warm one. Plants are the same.' Makes sense, when you think about it. Now you know.

Here is Neil, planting my little clematis

A week later, during a socially-distanced coffee on Neil's driveway, he presented me with a gardening book, inscribed: 'To my favourite student, Juliette'. How exciting is that? Also, what's happened to me? Gardening? I should be out getting drunk or buying shoes, not gardening. I'm 47, not 107. I barely recognise myself but it appears I have torpedoed headlong into middle age like a pro. Next I'll be buying long cardigans and eating oxtail soup. Meanwhile, my courgette plants are thriving (like Kate Middleton), my tomatoes surviving (like Meghan Markle) and I could just do with someone bringing me some pink geraniums as I'm still not allowed to go to a garden centre and don't actually want to, because TOO MANY PEOPLE SO MANY GERMS. I wrote a piece about how I feel as a 'shielding' person now that lockdown rules are being relaxed somewhat dramatically for the 'normals'. If you subscribe to The Telegraph, you can read that here if you're interested:

I like flamingos. I *may* have just bought two more

I shall report back when my courgettes flower. Meanwhile Jola has some sorrell for me to try from her vegetable patch - she's got an actual quasi-sci-fi propagator (that's like an alligator, but a fake one you can use on film sets) and has just delivered some homegrown parsley because I forgot to order some from Tesco, the only supermarket to give me an online delivery slot. Thank you, Tesco, and thank you, Jola! It's the street that just keeps on giving.

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