101 Challenges: It all started with the garden

I know you’re all wondering where I have been.

If I’ve nipped off into early retirement.

If one or even both of my injured legs have fallen off.

If I’ve pulled all of my hair out and ran around the house screaming, completely starkers and been taken away by men in white coats, in a van, with blue flashing lights.

I can tell you the reasons I have been ignoring you distracted, cannot be explained by any of the arguments above.

OK. In the spirit of honesty, I did have a little shot at the screaming bit. But in my defence: I was neither running nor naked. In fact, I stood quite still as I let out the tiny, shrill utterance. And no men came running. Only concerned children appeared at my feet. I tried to ease their distressed expressions (they believed I had yet again injured myself) by telling them that, “Everything is well, Mummy is just loosing her marbles.”

The elder two, apparently pacified, returned immediately to their previous, more entertaining activities. But the youngest one remained. Her faced advanced from worried to sceptical and then, she questioned, “Do you even know what marbles are?


I’m going to tell you what I’ve been doing for the last few weeks.

Why exactly I’m losing my marbles not finding time to blog.

But be prepared, it will take several posts.

It all started with the garden

And to be more precise: it all started with the bamboo.

With the help of spades and Pseu and buckets and Perfecting Motherhood,  and a heap of thoughtful advice from PiP, we started to realise the enormity of the task in hand.

After more than a little digging and carrying, we decided the intelligent decision would be to purchase a wheelbarrow. Which my husband then duly decided that, having a wheel, like a bike, must mean that the tyre requires a ‘good pumping’ before the very first use. Naturally leading on then to an ear-splittingly loud explosion.

It seems even our new neighbours are used to our carryings-on as no one came running and no one called the fire brigade.

As it turns out, a wheelbarrow full of bamboo roots and soil and ants and once complete worms is pretty much unshovable up hills and down dales with a flat. So we paused our digging momentarily, and poured out our woes to a good-natured shop assistant who kindly gave us a replacement wheel, free of charge. I can tell you, that action was a little ray of sunshine in those damp, dark days. We have finally given up on finished digging up bamboo roots and I can go to bed of an evening, without seeing their demonic dancing before my eyes.

Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that.

It actually went more like this:

We dug out the mass and transported the world-taker-overer the bush in our once shiny, no-soil-trodden-in-the-carpet, rented car. My husband then gently coaxed the very unsure gentleman at the recycling centre to take the evil infiltrator damn bush off our hands. Then we dug and discovered and dug and found. I flipped out about the sheer mass of ants (they have conquered, there we have no chance, there are at least three billion of them, which is only slightly more than the total number of roots we attempted to dig up). We panicked (rather a lot) about the proximity of the roots to the house and we dug and sweated and swore and hacked up worms and detected even more roots. We argued and I cried and we exploded tyres and got a sunburn with sunblock on on an overcast day. We discussed putting a pool in the hole or even a lake. Then we dug and unveiled even more far-reaching roots. We agreed stealing a panda from China would have been an easier way of solving the problem.

And then finally, after quite a lot of wailing and hallucinating, we decided to stop with the digging and start with the filling.

Which opened up a whole new can of worms in itself.

We caused the share prices in potting soil to rise steeply as we continually packed the car with sacks of the black stuff.

Then the gardener, who’d just laid our new terrace, politely informed us that: grass wouldn’t grow as the soil we’d used was far too sour. I think his heart went out to us and our enormous cavity in the ground, because he offered to deliver us some free humus the next time one of his workers would pass by. We almost bit his hand off and we happily waited for his truck to arrive. But despite his generosity, the hole still had a great big gaping, well, hole in the middle.

We’d wanted the outside to be ready for my fortieth, so we marched on with other garden work – which coincidentally provided us with extra suitable soil – including: building a wall made from giant plant pots (with the help of two hard-working friends). I subsequently stocked those with flowers and herbs – meaning I finally fulfilled my herb garden task! And with massive success. We now have ample supplies of fresh mint and coriander and chives and sage and rosemary and parsley and erm… thyme.

The thyme looks great and has grown tremendously. But when we ate it, we discovered that it was erm rather chewy and erm very bitter and also, it didn’t have that all-engulfing smell that fresh thyme normally has when it’s cooking…

Finally, I ascertained that we’d been eating – thyme – the bush.

Oh well. It still looks pretty.

I bought a new thyme, the herb, and now she’s sitting happily on the kitchen windowsill next to her new friend, Basil.

We bought and planted new bushes. I wish I could gleefully crow that that means I fulfilled another challenge. But alas: no. Only three have survived. The rest have been slaughtered.

One didn’t even have the chance to blossom before some ravished rodent chomped its way through the roots.

A second found itself de-stemmed by the gardening firm who arrived to lay the terrace and the new stone steps.

Another came a cropper when my exhausted husband forgot about it’s whereabouts and accidentally mowed over it with the lawnmower. ‘Twas only a baby.

Then two had a mishap, on two separate occasions, with the strimmer!!

We turned our attention from bushes to arches. We marched through DIY stores and I found an arch that I adored, and I soon loved it even more, because being the last one in the shop and the display model, it was actually reduced to almost half price! They even freely included the cobwebs and the spiders!

We somehow, managed to wrap the metal thing around two of the kids and were able to transport the already-built-up-for-us arch, home.

We found some budget, out-of-date concrete mix in the cellar, thought, “that’ll do” and rammed it in the ground.

Immediately afterwards, I planted what I’d believed to be two so-pale-purple-they-were-almost-blue clematises. Of course, once they both flowered I discovered that one was actually bright purple.

We marvelled from the new terrace at our wonderful handiwork. At the glorious colours. At the perfect precisional placement of the arch against the stone steps.

Then a hurricane force wind appeared and we watched in full Technicolor horror as the trampoline flew past the window, smashed into the arch, removing it completely from it’s out-of-date concrete, taking both blue and purple flowers along with it, and everything landing jammed up against the carport.

After a few wrestling moves that quite frankly, would open the WWF’s eyes, my husband managed to free the now slightly askew arch from the carport’s clutches.

We bought some new cement mix and started all over again. As you do.

The clematises weren’t happy. They haven’t grown much. And have only occasionally revealed to us their pretty petal components. But I can’t blame them. Firstly, they believed themselves to be twins of the identical persuasion. Then, just as they were starting to get used to one another, they were traumatically wrenched from their new homes only to be put straight back with the renewed aroma of fresh concrete within nauseating proximity.

I took my anger out on the weeds. I yanked them out one by one with a grab and twist hole-leaving contraption. I ached and the weeds just laughed and spread. My husband mowed over them and conceded that, at least they were green. But I had hatched another plan during our frequent trips to the gardening centres and DIY stores.


I bought it.

I brought it home.

I pointed it.

I sprayed it.

And then I laughed menacingly.

OK. That last bit was just for effect. 😉

But anyway, the weeds slowly withered and turned brown.

And I whooped around the lawn.

As you do.

Then the grass, slowly withered and turned brown.

And my husband pointed his finger at us all and questioned, “Who poured weedkiller?” on his precious well-tended grass. I reluctantly raised my hand.

Luckily though, the weeds grew back and there are now quite a few patches of green where the lawn used to be.

We put a few finishing touches to the garden like stepping stones to the featuristic archway. And we decided we’d do something exciting at the front door.

I had a vision of a stone garden. At first, I thought with plants dotted around but the only things that grow well there are, you got it, weeds. So we hit on another idea. A metal sculpture set in a stone garden.

Metal sculptures are quite ‘in’ here at the moment, so they’re easy to find. But having picked and laid the stones first, we decided that we’d prefer the sculptures to be in their pre-rusty form. And stay like that. “Easy!” we thought. We’ll just varnish them.

We traipsed back to the DIY shop and were greeted by a friendly assistant, she is, of course, more intimate with us than she is with her own family by now, due to our regular visits. After a little bit of consultation, we purchased our very own bottle of spray varnish.

I would like to point out at this point that I really wanted to buy a brush and a conventional slap-it-on varnish. My husband had to sympathetically pacify me by showing me that none of the slap-it-on varnishes were for metal that would live outside the home. Only this particular can of spray varnish said it would work the miracle of protecting metal objects standing outside, from the splish-splash of the rain. I felt unconvinced. Firstly, the metal object shown on the can was a wheelbarrow, not a shiny sculpture and secondly, I thought the fine mist provided by a spray can would take a right old battering in German storms. So we agreed on several coats.

I trust my husband, you know.

Despite him mowing over my bush. And using out-of-date cement. And exploding wheelbarrow tyres.

We returned home and started spraying. Then I recalled: I’m asthmatic and had to wander off and suck on an inhaler for a while.

After that, I could only wave from the closed window as my husband set to work with his aerosol.

He sprayed.

It rained.

And the next day the shiny metal sculptures had started to rust.

So he sanded them down, then sprayed them again.

Then sprayed them again. And again. For good measure.

It chucked it down.

They rusted.

He called the manufacturer and they informed him that unless the sculptures are kept indoors, they would rust. He begged for an idea of something, anything that could protect their silverness.

They told him about a plastic coating that’s used on planes. So of course, he bought some on the internet.

Are they still silver? Judge for yourself!

N.B. More 101 updates coming up.


44 thoughts on “101 Challenges: It all started with the garden”

  1. Oh my gosh, how I feel for you. This is so my life. I have, in fact, I think, for now, given up on my yard. But, as for your yard, based on your pictures, all I see is loveliness.

    1. We’ve really been pulling out all the stops out in order to try and have it nice for the birthday party. There wasn’t enough room in the house so the garden had to be used. I had a petty clear picture of what I wanted, then just had to coax my man a little bit. But A LOT happened along the way.
      The good thing with those wall pots is they are really easy to work with. They look quite dramatic.
      I’m glad you like the pictures!

  2. oh…

    fantastic post. Had me giggling and gasping!
    Sadly the slide show wouldn’t show… I’ll try again in the morning.

    1. it worked!
      So much improvement!
      How about, for the forlorn lawn: a ‘feed and weed’ treatment, followed 2 weeks later by removal of dead weeds, then a rake and scrape, to loosen the topsoil, and then a late summer sowing of grass seeds to fill in the gaps? Keep watered.

      Locally we have several companies which will do a series of lawn treatments over the year – if you have the same it may be worth an investent for a year or two to establish a good lawn.

      http://www.lawnmaster.co.uk/ – this site shows you the sort of things to expect from such a company.

      1. We always sow new seeds in spring and then at times throughout the summer, but we live on the edge of a green belt and there are an unbelievable amount of birds outside. They think we are just feeding them. This year after we sowed the seeds it rained really heavily, repeatedly. Some washed away but some stayed and grew especially where the bamboo had been. We actually have quite a lot of grass there now! Yippee!

        This year, for the first time my husband actually bought a feed and weed treatment so it’s funny you mention it. It didn’t actually seem to feed so well, but it did get rid of some of the weeds.

        We have seen something we’re sure would work. It’s a little robot lawnmower. Have you seen one? They are amazing. They roll around the garden cutting the grass every day. The weeds are then always cut down and eventually die and the grass become very thick as it is continuously cut by a tiny amount. That then falls to the ground and becomes it’s own fertiliser. Plus you never have to cut the lawn again.
        The problem of course is, that it’s expensive. But then if you buy one instead of your next lawnmower, and you’ll save all the money on fertilisers, seed, weedkiller etc.

        I haven’t heard of these type of lawn companies over here.I know there are garden centre’s that house your plants for the winter. It could be that we don’t have this service (we don’t have window cleaners or people who wash your wheelie bin) but I will look into it. Thank you again!!

  3. Isn’t gardening freaking annoying? Er, I mean, rewarding? I think you’re right about the panda, it would have been easier and faster.
    Congratulations on everything else you did in the garden, despite nature going against you (nature is very, very cruel).
    I like your planters by the way, and how they fit into each other. It’s so simple, it’s brilliant! I can’t believe I’ve never seen anything like it here.

    1. The panda would have entertained the kids too… And the neighbours. And we’d have had a holiday to China out of it!!

      I’m really pleased with everything else except the bushes. We’ve planted three bushes over the years where the rodent got that one and we’ve always suspected a rodent chewed through the roots there. Always in the same place? Very odd. It’s a good spot to have a bush as it’s right on the corner of the driveway, so it’s a kind of welcome if you like. Nasty rodents!!

      The planters are amazing. So simple and yet so clever. And the herbs love them, would even say they are trying to outgrow them. What I didn’t mention was pretty much all of the flowers I bought for just a few cents reduced right down in the supermarket, some of them didn’t look too healthy anymore and look, they’ve bloomed.

      You don’t get these planters in the UK either. In fact, I’ve only ever seen them here in Germany. Every DIY store has them.

  4. Wow. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry or offer sympathies or congratulations. I had a similar problem to your bamboo infestation with rosebushes in my house in Kansas. Everywhere else in the north you can’t get a rosebush to grow for anything, but they flourish like weeds there. Every year for 3 years I dug out giant chunks of rosebush roots, and every year they came back. Eventually I moved.

    Your final pictures look lovely, though.

    1. Moving is definitely an option. We’re banking on winning the lottery shortly as we have a whole heap of requirements from our next house. Which, of course, includes a landscape gardener and a swimming pool. And naturally, a young man who pops in to clean the pool… And someone to clean the house and a holiday home and… and…

      Sorry, I lost my way for a moment. Where was I? I had no idea rosebushes could be problematic. I got three rainbow rose seeds as a birthday present. I am afraid of setting them in the ground in case I kill them. I looked up the website and it seems mighty difficult to grow a rose from a seed. I thought of them as very fragile plants – evidently I’m mistaken!!

      I’m pleased with the final garden except the grass could look better and I spent too much time battling weeds with no real avail oh and I’m sad about the fate of the bushes. But I’ll plant more. I’m obstinate, you know.

      I love the arch. Love it. Despite the clematises looking bald now and refusing to grow.

    1. I wondered that too – especially when there are so many different weeds!!
      The one I used evidently had no clue, but one my husband used early in the year seemed not to have a problem.

      You’ve been here before!! 😉

  5. hmm, Seems I have finially found a suitable candidate to pass my “worst gardener in the world” title onto LOL.
    I mean… whilst the hurricane definiately wasn’t your fault, the exploding wheelbarrow tyre really did take the biscuit! I think thoughout this post I laughed, groaned and thought ” I WOULD do THAT too” in equal measures…

    Let’s face it, I’d give up on the sculpture staying silver whilst (a) you still have a shred of sanity left (b) before your deplete the entire planet supply in possible spray products (c) before your neighbours DO ring the firebrigade / police / ambulance because you have so many coats of varnish applied to the thing that it’s now a toxic, flamible and possibly radioactive biohazzard.

    Seriously… I’m supposing that wheelbarrow tyre blowouts are nothing on house explosions, and remember, you like me, are of the accident prone persuasion. (I mean .. what could POSSIBLY go wrong?) Answer: everything! Pick your battles 🙂

  6. Sara….you are so darn funny! Your adventure in gardening is hilarious. sounds lie some of my husband and my home improvement projects. like when we installed one of those closet organizer kits with shelves and racks in our bedroom closet. the instructions said 22 minutes. it took us oh about 10 hours. really. turned out we were trying to drill right into the metal studs for the house. broke multiple drill bits! I am giving you the Sunshine Award http://believeanyway.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/ive-got-sunshine-award/. for two reasons: love you and your blog; and because i wouldn’t want your to do list to get too short!

    1. Thank you so much Kate!!!

      I can’t believe it would be possible to install one of those kits in just 22 minutes. I have no clue when it comes to such things. My husband makes it look easy and hardly casts a mere glance at the instructions. Whereas I study it from all different angles and still can’t make head nor tail of it.
      Once I tried to build up a flat packed doll’s house ALONE. Walls ended up back to front/wrong way around. Luckily I was rescued by my man (who kindly congratulated me on my efforts).
      Wat a night mare drilling into the metal studs – no wonder you broke several drill bits!!!

  7. Hysterical…in a good way, of course. I could not stop laughing. I so understand about yards and landscaping…most of mine is weeds…and I do try as well. My effort this year was to not water the grass so it is now quite dead and I don’t have to water. Yea! There are some benefits. I like your sculptures, by the way. Beautiful! 🙂

    1. I’m really glad you liked the article.

      Our garden is totally overgrown with weeds now. The rain keeps watering them!

      I love the sculptures too. They’re quite dramatic!

  8. Bamboo. I’ve planted bamboo – of my own free will – in the back of my garden, to block the view of the houses that were built there last year. Perhaps I should send the roots underground towards their foundations.
    Sarah, you crack me up. I know you’ve had a lot of misfortune this past year, but still you manage to write with so much humor.
    I do hope you are feeling well, or ‘besser’ at least. Those ornaments are lovely, as is your herb garden.
    *warmest hugs* I miss you, my dear.

    1. As I read your bamboo tale I could see that glint in your eye!!!!

      I need to start writing more again Mar, it’s therapeutic!! And I love all the comments from people like you!! 😉

      I am feeling better, well, ish, New body parts have started to malfunction. The latest is my knee. I being sent to the surgeon. Still, it may well give me a few funny, ‘Sarah on crutches’ stories.

      1. You could see the mischievous glint over there? Impressive! Or I’m just really pissed about those houses 😉
        If it makes you feel better, then yes, please do write more. You don’t write with your knee, right? Does it hurt a lot? 😦 Tell the surgeon that you are going to hurt him as much as he does you. That’ll make him very sympathetic. 😉

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