Gardeners’ Question Time

What are you doing?

I’m cutting down these plants. They look awful.

What about the lawn?

I don’t have a lawnmower.

Are you going to climb the high ladder?


And so it went on. The problem is that our gardener retired on health grounds. He was not the best gardener I have ever met but he was efficient, polite and over time grew to understand that it was a waste of time asking me if he could scatter Chinese pesticides all over the place to stop the worms (= caterpillars) eating all the foliage. What happened next was supposed to be along the lines of:

In his brother’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.

The younger brother took over in the absence of a page. He was everything the elder brother was not. His gardening implement of preference, indeed possibly his only tool, was the chain saw. That and a sack of Chinese pesticide. I could not believe the carnage. And he wanted to charge us more money. After the second visitation confirmed there was no hope of redemption we fired him. Bang.

And so began the quest for the holy grail gardener. We had one sniff of a lead but it withered on the vine. Mrs. Ha saw a gardener going to another house and asked them if they would “do” for us. Can I do you now, sir?  Enter a rather short, portly man with a distinctly patronising air.

Its not a very good garden is it? he said.

My immediate thought was that if I had wanted him to critique the garden Marco and I had designed I would have said so. Discretion for once was the better part of pruning.

Well it hasn’t been tended much for some time, I replied. We rather thought you were the man to get it back in shape.

Its not a very good garden is it? he repeated. I don’t want to do it.

After much cajoling and the threat of Lulu biting his ankles the patronising, portly pruner agreed to do us an enormous favour and come and do us once. And of course he wanted more money. When we called later to fix a date and time he was unavailable. Lulu isn’t much of a sniffer dog so there was little chance of her hunting him down. She is reluctant to play Pedro to my Sexton Blake. And that meant there was only one other solution. DIY. That thought went through my mind when Mrs. Ha asked if I was finally going to do the garden. She trumped me however by threatening to recall younger brother with chain saw.

It was Dragon Boat day today. My choice was go out in 35C heat and photograph dragon boat racing or cut down a few bits and pieces in the hope that I would get time off for good behaviour. Out came the secateurs. And that is where we came in.

When we left Britain I left behind in the garage for the new owners of my old house a veritable treasure trove of gardening tools. From lawnmower to long-handled shears, from edging cutters to garden forks, bright, shiny, stainless steel Wilkinson Sword blades sharp enough to cut through anything nature could put in the way. Oh how I wish I had those tools now.

I wilted in the heat and before I do much more I shall have to find a shop that sells all those horticultural trinkets. Or find another gardener. I am in despair.

So what do you think about when its the hottest day of the year outside? Well I thought about Antarctica and how much easier the gardening would be down there. I could ditch the lawnmower for a start. And so as I don’t have a picture of The Three Tenors for M.R., here are The Three Skuas. In a pesticide free rock garden. (Cue Percy Grainger).

The three skuas




25 thoughts on “Gardeners’ Question Time

  1. The silver lining of the writer is to find a piece of prose from a thorn bush. If you’d had a better or more reliable garden, my Monday morning would have been denied this pleasure. I’m now off to sharpen the shears and to see if BBC inlayer has any old episodes of ITMA.

  2. Unlike you, I didn’t leave all those trinkets behind so they are lurking unused in my garage in Pain. Er, Spain. I am in Pain not the garage. Do tell what you require and I will ship them right over. Choice of two lawn mowers.

    • Well I am hoping some departing expat will want to offload some tools and I am sure shipping a lawnmower from Gib to Honkers would cost a fortune. The offer is appreciated however and next time (what next time?) I won’t leave so much behind.

  3. I share your pain Andrew! I have lost count of the number of gardeners I have had over the years. Most have been little short of disasterous, pulling out prized plants and leaving the weeds. our current one has been with us for 3 or 4 years and is the best of the bunch, but tends to turn a blind eye to the invasion of the triffids in most of the garden and work obsessively on small beds which are already looking great – my eye invariably falls on the jungle areas!

    • I think gardeners are a law unto themselves, James. I am not against unkempt areas – they attract the wildlife I enjoy but there is a line that should not be crossed. Marco looked after us for 3 years or so and is still young. But he has a problem with this foot and can not do the heavy work now. He and his brother are philosophically worlds apart. If I had the space and the conditions I would start a rose garden. My father was an obsessive rose grower and I dabbled for a while. I would like to try again in a temperate climate.

  4. Just turn all to a green thought in a green shade..
    Thanks for all my likes.
    I like your account of the frustrations of everyday life. They’re global!

    • Oddly enough that was what it was when we bought the house. A bit of decking and some paving stones. I should study the Chelsea Flower Show gardens, perhaps.

  5. Terrific post! I used to tend gardens like a madwoman, morning, noon, and night. Now, if a plant can’t fend for itself… oh well. I can no longer tolerate the blazing sun, the humidity, the heavy slogging required and the inexorable push of nature to overrun my efforts.

  6. We are our own gardeners and have never invited another to do the deed, Andrew. When we first bought this place I considered making it a bunch of small gardens with wood chip paths and no mowing. Mary Beth did not like that idea so I mow to this day…yesterday, actually. But, if I were you, I would purchase a goat. They require little maintenance, eat grass and provide plant food (and if you pick your gender carefully, milk>cheese) and are the kind of good company that says little, listens and occasionally offers good advice….bah!
    Maybe you could contact your old property buyers to see if they were using the tools. 💡

    • A goat is a brilliant idea, Steve. I don’t know what the neighbours will think but I shall just say bah. Shipping the tools 6,000 miles isn’t worth it. The problem is so few places in HK have a garden that there aren’t many places to buy stuff except the plants themselves. How would we train the goat to eat only grass?

      • The same way we train rabbits to leave our crops alone….make a spray of water and hot pepper juice. Of course, it has to be reapplied after every rain. Just don’t import your goat from a country with spicy cuisine. 🙂
        It’s hard to believe there are not a ton of tools available from a short distance….almost all our stuff in the US is being made in China these days. I must admit to not having bought tools for the garden in quite some time as ours have lasted us well since 1985 when we moved in, but I am sure the majority of everything is made there now.

  7. It sounds like you’ve had rotten luck with the gardeners. I like Steve’s idea of a goat, Well I would, I used to keep 10 of them!! I’ve got to confess though that goats and gardens don’t mix. Stick to pots Andrew, lyke wot I ‘av in Spayn.

  8. We share your pain! Left all of our gardening tools in Australia, figured it would be easy to find a lawn service/gardener in the USA. Not so!! All the reliable businesses no longer accept new clients. 😦 Current lawn man hasn’t shown up for 2.5 weeks after, “I’ll cut it weekly.” And my arms are scratched up after pruning rose bushes all yesterday afternoon. Good luck on your hunt for tools/gardener!

  9. The Three Tenors ? – pfuh ! Populist rubbish ! Give me an opera any day. 😀
    Your story of looking for a gardener is reflected by my eldest sister’s (she lives in Melbourne), who has been ripped off by the lot, I think. Tell me, exactly what is it about your garden that these bastards find so objectionable ?

  10. I wish I could come and do the work – though I wouldn’t survive the heat for long. Gardens don’t wait for you to find a caretaker, they just go on growing enthusiastically. My husband is always surprised by the bins I fill pruning and weeding, he feels that once you have done the job that should be the end of it…

  11. Such a timely post when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the yardwork required around our house. Whoever coined the expression ‘the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer’ didn’t have a garden to contend with and the riot of weeds threatening to overtake everything.
    Good luck finding a gardener that meets your needs 🙂

  12. I think I would have Skuad the gardener. How rude.

    Pots and planters are the only way to go. We’d get a goat but it might become dinner for the coyote bear or bobcat.

    Your sad tale gave me a great laugh. But I do feel your pain. Be careful out there.

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