Final Word: Green thumbs versus the big dry

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All the gardens are drying up. Photo / Thinkstock
All the gardens are drying up. Photo / Thinkstock

It's a sad state when cracks are the only things growing in the garden.

They're not even wisecracks - these sods are as dumb as dirt. Which makes perfect sense, given that's what they grow in best. After all the moaning over last year's fizzer, who would have thought summer could wear out its welcome? There's no doubt this year's been a cracker, something for everyone's kids to use as a yardstick against which all future summers will fail miserably. Every generation needs its golden years, after all.

But just try telling that to my hydrangeas.

My old gran's hydrangeas bloomed all big and bumptious with her doing no more than looking at them and letting the neighbour's cat do its doing's in the soil. Yet mine ... well, Gran would just offer a quiet "oh dear".

They look post-apocalyptic. What makes it worse, is that the only reason we have them is due to a generous gift in Aunty Lyn's will.

Previously, our backyard was an unuseable slope dotted with squat trees, swampy lawn and a lumpy stone path that was less path and more death trap. Her parting gesture meant we could terrace, then carpet it in proper lawn before cracking on with a landscape plan based on letting anything grow anywhere, with the proviso that if it didn't pass muster it was ripped up.

Well, cancer is an ugly, pointless bastard, so it seemed right that something beautiful should come of it. So now I not only have this debt to charity but - for reasons I don't understand due to not being a hippie - we also have the placentas from two births in need of planting so we can fit more icecream into the freezer. The idea is to bury them as we dedicate a memorial plaque to Aunty Lyn and wave a few fern fronds. But unfortunately my spade goes limp at the thought of battering at the dessicated, stubbly crust that remains of our lawn in the middle of a drought.

If rain's too much to ask for, I'd make do with just having 1970s television gardener Reg Chibnall back. He could set my nana garden to rights - after all, he was an ex-copper famous for cracking the even more famous Ashburton cribbage killing and investigating a suspected alien landing site in Ngatea.

Chibnall was a bloke who inspired trust as he whipped up storms of gladiolis, tomatoes and spuds in a barrel, and all in the Good Lord's black and white. Up until his arrival on the telly, the ground was just something to break my fall. I tuned in every week until that flash harry Eion Scarrow came along with his newfangled ways.

It was another 40-odd years before my green thumbs itched again. Home ownership changed everything until the not-even-remotely metaphorical cracks began appearing in all my grand plans.

"No problem," you're thinking. "Plenty of council wine in the tap." And yes, watering plants should be as easy as growing sea monkeys. If not castles, I was expecting verdant growth with minimal effort.

Except using the can is plain tedious. It takes 10 litres, which goes nowhere in the jungle my planting fever has delivered, and anyway the stupid tap is at the perfect angle to make refilling really uncomfortable.

I took to using a sprinkler but anything more than a 600ml flow flips it to the perfect angle to send a fierce spurt up my walk shorts.

So I flagged that as well and started dragging the hose around.

This is a process our oldest son calls "washing the garden". It kicks off with vigorous swearing as the unkinkable hose knots itself into a merry tangle, then shifts to stomping back and forth to the tap as I search for the right pressure to reach distant plants without shredding them.

That's a lesson you have to learn the hard way. A couple of shrubs haven't been the same since the "turning the tap the wrong way" incident. I've now taken to reciting the "leftie loosie, rightie tightie" mantra.

Then there's the matter of when to go to all this bother. If watering happens in the morning they might look all perky when I get home - which is much better than being greeted by plants that look more shagged out than you are - but they risk a broiling during the day.

On the other hand, and it probably doesn't need saying, I've also found walking about with a beer as you're hosing is a better look in the evening.

Which might suggest I water a lot, and I do. The plants probably shower more often than I do, yet my hydrangeas are still rubbish.

I'll give them a couple of weeks, then I'm putting some plastic ones in. Sorry Aunty Lyn.

James Griffin will return next week. The rain returns tomorrow (hopefully).

- NZ Herald

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