For the last 10 years, I’ve lived with an addict. Someone who has an uncontrollable urge, an all-consuming need. My beautiful wife, trapped and dominated by addiction.
The house can fall apart, but the addiction must be fed. No longer keen to go out, to see people who don’t have the same addiction. They talk their own coded language, Every day is dominated by this disease.
It started off purely recreational, almost social, just a bit of interest in herbal stuff. Healthy and natural, but soon the craving set in and it became all consuming, sneaking into every other activity, every conversation. The costs begin to mount; it stops being about ‘want’ and becomes about ‘need’.
Before you know it, you’re living with a gardener. Mud-spattered clothes, hair full of twigs, wellies on permanent stand by. Secateurs in the pocket ‘just in case’. They worship at the altar of strange gods, in reverent awe at a new David Austin variety. They have strongly tribal beliefs, which we must learn about or be regarded with suspicion: Gardeners World just isn’t the same without Geoff Hamilton, and Monty Don is a rank arriviste.
My wife started out small time, just pruning a bit of her mother’s garden, listening to her grandmother, but talking about how she resented the amount of time and money it took everyone else in her family to GARDEN. She thought she was immune, thought the disease had skipped a generation. But in the background the siren tones of the plant catalogue were calling, pulling her to the rocks (rocks which should be moved together and made into a water feature).
Then she bought a rose, her own rose, then another. Bulbs were planted for next spring. Soon I was roped in too, marking out paths, making raised beds for vegetables: ‘think how much we’ll save growing our own…’ ignoring the calculation that seeds, timber, nails, slabs, fertiliser, netting and time mean that I could get Harrods to bring me spuds by helicopter for less. We first went to garden centres, the horticultural equivalent of a street level dealer, with the plants diluted by ugly fleece jackets and kitchenware. After they couldn’t provide enough of a buzz, it was on to specialist nurseries; so we visit one dealer for alpines, one for ferns, and a full day’s travel for ornamental trees. Now the dealers know her by name, give discounts for bulk, make sure she’s only getting the purest stuff.
I could cope with it, I thought. It’s nice having a garden that looks nice, I thought. It could be worse, I thought; at least she’s not an obsessive shopper. But there’s always another hose, or trellis, or Hardy Plumbago that absolutely needs to be bought. But it’s a beast that’s never satisfied. There’s always a thing to cut, or dig up, or put back. Once you dug the thing up, something has to go in its place. Once you’ve cut the thing back you can see the gaps that need filling. There’s mowing twice weekly all summer, turning compost heaps, wandering around other gardens chanting in Latin. Every day in the post we get priority catalogues from flower pushers. I can spot secateurs in a pocket at 30 yards. We visit other gardens, we have to plan holidays and trips away around the stuff that needs doing in our garden and the gardens we may be able to visit while away. Any journey could involve a u-turn to slowly drive by a place with a rare buddleia growing somewhere it shouldn’t.
Next year we might open to the public, just for a few Sundays; there’s a scheme. So we stop being just users and become dealers, maybe giving away the odd cutting or seedling, spreading the addiction. We’ll be in a little book, and other addicts will come round and tut and mutter, and steal the cuttings and seedlings they want rather than the ones we’re prepared to give away.
Winter is the worst, she paces, waiting for the soil to warm up, muttering about the squirrels. Spring is a chaos of planting, cutting the stuff that couldn’t be cut before. Summer, you’d think would be the time to enjoy it but it all keeps needing food, water, love, more cutting. Autumn it all dies, needs pruning and digging and mulching and then it’s winter again.
At least for Alcohol and class A drugs there’s rehab, but I know someone who dried out at the Priory, and they recommended that he take up gardening as a way to channel his energy.
And now I have it too. I’m writing this as I have a bit of time after servicing the rotovator, and before I go through the seeds to make the spreadsheet of what we need and when we need to be planting. I’m beyond help, but you can save yourselves. Remember though that old copies of this magazine are compostable, and add vital bulk to your compost heap if there’s too much greenery in it.