• Tilly Rivers

Gardening in Lockdown

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

Since I’m in lockdown with my aged mother I’ve been forced into doing something I’ve never done before. Something pretty scary.


‘Just a little light weeding, dear,’ she announced yesterday. ‘Since I can’t get down to it anymore and the gardener can’t come.’

I sulkily closed my laptop and shuffled out into the sunshine.

‘What sort of weeding?’ I asked suspiciously.

‘The dandelions. They’re such thugs you know, elbowing out all the primroses and bluebells. As soon as I see one raise his cheeky head, I rush at him with a trowel. When I’m able…’ She sat with a sigh on the garden bench and handed me the trug of garden tools.

Mum is ninety-two and although she’s remarkably fit for her age, getting down and dirty in the flowerbeds isn’t really an option anymore. Luckily, she has me.

I took the trowel and began waving it at the dandelions while briskly snapping off their heads.

‘No, no. You have to dig right down and get them all up by the roots. Leave just one and it will seed the entire garden.’

‘But what about my nails,’ I said peering dubiously at the black earth.

Mum just smiled so I grumpily scrambled up the steep rockery, lunging crossly at them while being speared belligerently on all sides by rose bushes.

It’s only a small garden but it must have been a good hour before I emerged, bloody and bowed with an aching back. Still, I thought, viewing the weeds strewn all over the lawn like corpses on a battlefield, a job well done.

Just then my daughter texted asking what I was up to. ‘Weeding,’ I replied and sent her a picture of the slaughter.

‘Muuuum!!! How COULD you. Bees need dandelions, and so do beetles and butterflies. And sparrows eat the seed – it’s a superfood.’ This was followed up by five crying face emojis and a bee. I didn’t text back.

‘Could you just trim the grass borders, Tilly?’ I turned to find Mum handing me a pair of small scissors. I stared at them in disbelief. ‘You can use a sharp knife for the bits where it borders on flagstones.’

Half an hour later my pink jeans were permanently ruined by grass stains and I’d been bitten by an army of ants.

‘Now, we can see to the roses, dear. You’re doing a wonderful job,’ said Mum .

‘What does see to mean?’ I asked irritably. ‘Watering?’

‘Um. Yes.’

As it turned out, seeing to them actually meant coddling them like a nursery of new-born babies. First the earth around the roots had to be loosened with a fork, then they had to be fed with what looked like bird seed, while Mum clucked ‘din-dins’ from her bench, then they had to be watered which involved trekking off to the garage and screwing a complicated series of hose-pipes together.

‘If you wouldn’t mind watering each one for ten minutes and no more than a trickle. We don’t want to upset them,’ said Mum as I fought grimly up the rockery to attend to the needs of each individual rose for the hundredth time. Next it was manure, meaning I had to dig my hands into a bag of excrement and spread it loving around each and every root. And then, having piled insult onto injury Mum pointed at a bucket of jagged rocks and explained they needed placing carefully on top of the manure to stop the birds getting at the worms.

‘You are actually kidding me,’ I said, hands on hips. ‘I should be writing deathless prose, not …’ She smiled again.

When I’d risked life and limb for the fourth time with a sack of rocks on my back, we sat down for a cuppa and Mum happily announced that tomorrow we’d be tackling the dandelions again. And the bindweed.

‘Dandelions!’ I exclaimed, startled. 'What dandelions?'

‘They come up every day,' she said looking at me in surprise. 'Gardens grow.’

I slumped over my mug, not daring to ask about bindweed.

‘And isn’t it a shame,’ she said, pouring out the milk, ‘that the garden-centres are all closed now?’

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