Rock on


I am making a garden in a building site.
True, it’s a 40 year-old building site, but that adds an extra layer of both challenge and excitement. There are sections of bush, with a thin layer of quite nice topsoil on top of a thick layer of clay and then solid but easily shattered rock. That is, it’s solid if you try to dig it, but shatters into a thousand fragments if you try to use it for anything sensible like garden bed edges.
But the area around the house is a 1960s building site and rubbish tip. The people who built the house (three mudbrick buildings, very gorgeous) made the bricks here themselves, having carved three house sites out of the clay and rock.
I don’t know how they made the bricks. The clay is full of shards of riverstone, which they sieved and then obviously piffed over the side of the house sites. Along with bottles and bits of failed pottery and car batteries and sardine tins and for some inexplicable reason plastic ivy leaves which I find, by the handful, every week.
So I am either gardening on steep banks littered with shards and old rubbish, or in solid clay. In the middle of my vegie patch there is a car axle sticking up out of the dirt. I don’t know why. But it’s concreted in, so it’s staying there.
Gardening here is what we might call a Valuable Learning Experience. I am now, for example, possibly the world’s greatest forensic digger-upperer of old beer bottles (besides professional archaeologists, of course). There was a fashion in the ’60s for including beer bottles in mudbricks. Our cottage has a wall made of sherry flagons, which makes you want to fire up the fondue set. There are bottle buried everywhere.
Today I was digging a hole to move the olive tree, which is in the shade and bent almost horizontal by the force of a pink hebe.
Never heard of such a thing as a venerable olive tree threatened by a wee sweet hebe? You’ve never seen this hebe. It’s a Monster Hebe. It’s the King Kong of hebes. It’s the size of an elephant and I’m not exaggerating. Yes, I know they are usually about a metre high at most. This is the size of the MCG. And pink. Of course. I hate pink. This hebe is like a Barbara Cartland Mardi Gras Float.
Anyway, so the olive tree must be rescued. I dig a hole for it. For once, I am not digging in an area that is stony, so it must be solid clay. Though I have dug it into a raised bed a while back so it’s not too solid. Clink. Not one but two old beer bottles in one hole (you have to extricate them very carefully so they don’t shatter, and this is a skill I have had to develop over the last year).
Also in the soon-to-be-a-hole is some black plastic. And the cuff off a once-white shirt. That’s all in the process of digging just one hole.
The ground full of rocks is worse. Some of them are just the size of a matchbox, but enough to turn the spade blade. There may be dozens in a square foot of earth. And needless to say I also piff them all elsewhere, which I will no doubt live to regret.
Other rocks are the size of a dog. Mind you, once you’ve got those buggers out, you have a mighty decent-sized planting hole. But no soil to backfill.
Yesterday I was planting correas on one of the banks and in the end resorted to scraping a hole in the stones, filling it with compost and planting into it. The Derek Jarman method.
If I’d thought about it properly, I could have made a gravel garden like Beth Chatto. People keep telling me to turn it into a rock garden but I can’t stand those Carefully Managed Rocky Bank Gardens. This garden just happens to have rocks, that’s all. And stones. And beer bottles lurking beneath the surface.
Come to think of it, Derek Jarman probably would have quite liked that. He’d probably be perfectly happy about the car axle. But I hate to think what he’d make of the hebe.

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