I have always admired other people’s gardens when passing by, mown grass in stripes like the tennis courts of Wimbledon, or carefully planted beds where colours blend in so well, all artfully grown with tall plants at the back, short at the front, roses growing like models for a chocolate box, and so on. But I really didn’t appreciate how dedicated you have to be to create such verdant masterpieces until I was a gardener myself.
My first serious foray into gardening was planting a rockery on a steep slope that had previously been grass, and was impossible to mow without crampons and ropes. I was very enthusiastic, rummaging round the undergrowth for suitable rocks and outings to garden centres to buy plants. I have to say the final result wasn’t bad, but it was the start of a lifelong hatred of weeds - how dare they grow in my newly planted rockery and try to choke perfectly placed succulents, or get their roots tangled with those of my heathers? Ignore the garden for a week or two and a dandelion will innocently move in, closely followed by its cousins and in laws, all throwing their roots deep into my virgin soil.
Now in Portugal, I have had to learn (the hard way) that marigolds valiantly struggle with the heat of the sun until they gracefully give up the battle of heat, snails and insects, and it seems to me that you have to be a contender for the Chelsea Flower Show to grow roses. Once we tried to grow a lawn, did all the right things like levelling and ground preparation first, etc, only to see armies of ants gleefully marching off in lines with the grass seeds firmly clasped between their pincers, gossiping to their friends en route about the endless bounty of food just laying there for the taking. Grass never grew where it was sown, oh no, it sneakily sprouted in thick clumps under my newly laid gravel paths, or under rocks and made a nuisance of itself in pavement cracks.
But now I am getting to grips with the garden, growing succulents and cacti that are drought tolerant in pots, geraniums that give welcome splashes of colour all year, yuccas that grow anywhere with very little maintenance, and Oleander for hedging that I seem to be able to attack with secateurs when it gets too big, but always rewards with abundant flowers. I have learned not to be too worried about weeds, most die off in the summer heat anyway, and actually their flowers in the spring are not only good for bees but look pretty good too!