21 August 2021

It's not easy being green (we have the dirt to prove it)

| Sally Hopman
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Aerial view of zig-zag gardens at National Arboretum

Your green-fingered author’s next project: to copy the National Arboretum’s zig-zag gardens. Seriously, how hard could it be? Photo: National Arboretum.

Kermit the Frog had it sorted: it’s not easy being green.

Especially if you live in the bush, where people expect you to know how to grow things.

Well, they do until they get to know you, in my case.

It didn’t take most people who know me long. Only seconds, it turns out, or as soon as I started talking in vegetative tones, especially when it was about asparagus.

I was in my factory setting of pretending to know what I was doing. I had sort of built a vegetable garden at home in Gundaroo.

Translation: the tradies who were trying to unfix all the restoration work we’d done (now that is another story) had dumped a pile of dirt adjacent to the house where there were still holes in the walls.

Fill the holes with dirt, I thought. How could that go wrong? Let them get as high as they wanted to as long as no laws were broken.

I’d done my reading. Asparagus like to get high. They love to grow on mounds so I built them mounds. Lots of them in not-very-neat rows, but definitely closer to God.

I impressed myself and, quite ambitiously now in retrospect, I even printed little waterproof labels saying ‘asparagus’.

Like I thought they were actually going to grow.

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I learned a lot that day/week/month/years. Apparently asparagus have royal lineage. They come in crowns rather than tins so I bought a bagful from the rural supplies store.

I love that store. The staff are always so happy and they always seem to laugh when I walk through the door. Their good mood when I walked in that day was contagious. Crown and dirt. How could that not mix?

I reading the how-to-asparagus book as I went, but unfortunately not very well because soon it became covered in dirt and other unmentionables so I could have missed a few crucial bits.

“This self-asparagus efficiency is a doddle,” I thought as I sat back in the dirt waiting for them to grow … for more than a year, but nothing happened.

Sorry, not true.

Weeds happened. Dog poo happened. But no asparagus.

I dug up the dirty book about asparagus that I had buried a few seasons back when it produced nothing.

Crowns can take up to three years to deliver anything, it said. Ah, for a moment there I thought I had done something stupid.

But wait, there’s more. Because I refused to admit there was something lacking in my veggie growing skills – probably oxygen – I’m not one to workshop green ideas with other people. Not just because everyone knows more than me, but because I live in hope there is someone who doesn’t.

Someone told me about a friend of a friend’s ex-friend who planted petrified dog turds because she thought they were bulbs. No, it wasn’t me and I have proof, although it does sound suspiciously like something I’d do.

This same sad soul also kept ringing up radio gardening programs insisting there was something wrong with her deciduous trees because they kept losing their leaves every year.

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But it’s not all bad news.

I successfully grew radishes once. But it was by accident so it probably doesn’t count. There was a hole in the bag and they ended up growing around the tap where I’d dropped the seeds.

I also grew strawberries. Well, about four of them because they were already flowering in the pot when someone gave them to me, and I never touched them again before the cockies ate them and I threw the pot at the cockies.

Turns out my throwing, as opposed to growing, arm comes in quite handy when friends give me pots of stuff – as long as it occasionally rains and I forget to do anything to said plant.

Or if all else fails when you’re trying to pretend you’re a better gardener than you are, do what I do when you smell something unattractive: blame the dog.

I have blamed successive dogs for destroying just about everything in the garden, and inside the house, too.

If you like a happy ending or are just after more dirt on my inability to grow anything I actually want to grow, I found out about three years after planting the asparagus crowns the main reason they probably never grew: I planted them upside down.

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Seriously? Us two have been living on our block since 1980/81. We don’t grow every single thing we eat. But we do grow stuff, year round.
It’s not really difficult.

But I’d be thinking about composting your food wastes as a parallel project. We use worm- farms for compost. Worm poo diluted is an excellent fertilser.

I haven’t used any other fertiliser for years.

I don’t use a lot of sprays – against insects or moulds! ? Perhaps healthy happy veggies don’t need much help. Just water, compost and sunlight.

Dogs? get some gates! Cats? get a small air-rifle or put plastic spikes along your fence tops.

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