Suburban Man: Growing pains

Non-gardening had always seemed the more appealing option.

Illustration: Angela Keoghan.

It started with a lawn. This time last year we got a four-tonne digger in to dig up most of our section, an exercise that was one of the highlights of 2015. Eddie the Digger arrived one Monday and started scraping at one end of the back lawn, working his way up the side of the house and out to the driveway. He pulled up metre after metre of concrete laid by previous owners in a bid to make the section “low maintenance”. By the end of the day he’d filled four — four! — concrete skips with concrete and junk, and scraped the whole section back to clay. He dug up car axles, lumps of concrete and a 1970s rock garden, and he also discovered the original septic tank from the days when our house was a bach.

Then a man named Spud, who had a tattoo of a hand flipping the bird on the back of each calf, came with a Bobcat and spread around a whole pile of topsoil. It started to rain and soon we had a big mud pit out the back (until Hannah’s mum arrived with a bag of lawn seed as my birthday present and proceeded to scatter it about artfully) and a gravel pit out the front, where our mate Philip has since designed a very nice courtyard garden.
Me, I like gardens. But planting one from scratch? Digging all day in the hot sun and weeding voluntarily? I’d rather have a drink.

None of this has much to do with me. Hannah is descended from a long line of market gardeners and farmers and people who grow things for a living: there is something innate in her that connects with the ground, and nothing gives her more pleasure than to scratch around in the dirt. Me, I like gardens. I’m very happy to sit in them and I had the occasional holiday job digging holes and lumping compost when I was a teenager. But planting one from scratch? Digging all day in the hot sun and weeding voluntarily and not for cash? I’d rather have a drink.

Eventually, the lack of a vege garden was doing Hannah’s head in, so Philip came around with my other mate, David, and we moved Hannah’s planter box to its new spot and I took Philip’s ute and got a quarter of a tonne of topsoil for it. Something clicked. As the digger poured earth down into the tray of the ute, I started to understand the appeal of digging all day in the hot sun. It’s the power of making something from nothing, creating life where there was none. After Philip and David left, I planted some grass seed of my own, and ever since then that little lawn around the side of the house has become emblematic. I’ve watched it carefully, nurtured it even, watered it when it was dry.

Then, once we got back from holiday this summer, we got sick of staring at a pile of clay and gravel in the front yard, so I got a pickaxe and a spade and a pile of compost and some gypsum and began to dig away at all that clay, smashing up the hard lumps and then mixing through gypsum and compost. By the end of the weekend, we had the beginnings of a garden, and the following weekend we started to plant.

Now, we have a lemon tree and a lime tree and a bay tree, and some birds of paradise and some daylilies because they’re hardy. To that we’ll add reedy things and grasses and giant subtropical things. There’ll be a front fence and a sense of enclosure and a fig tree against a sunny wall and in my head at night there will be string lights and a big table and a pizza oven around which we will gather on hot summer evenings.

It rained heavily that week. Instead of complaining, I thought about what it would do for our new plants and I kept popping my head out my office door, half-hoping to catch them growing. And my little lawn? It’s a lovely lush green.

This article was first published in the April 2016 issue of Metro.