I’m not too green to be mean

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE - Lynda Hal­li­nan

Bondage and dis­ci­pline. The heretic’s fork. The sound of a vac­uum cleaner chok­ing on a plas­tic bread bag tie. Face­book news feed con­spir­a­cies. Many and bar­baric are the man-made in­stru­ments of hu­man tor­ture, though none com­pares to the in­hu­man­ity of the nat­u­ral world. Ask any keen gar­dener: in spring, Mother Na­ture is a stroppy soand-so.

For­get all that guff about re­gen­er­a­tion and re­newal. The earth god­dess blows as hot and cold as a Tin­der hookup, and is as trust­wor­thy as a botoxed ric­tus on The Real Housewives of Auck­land. (Only Gilda ap­pears to have func­tion­ing fa­cial mus­cles. Then again, she’s the fox in the hen house: saga­cious, sav­age, quick­wit­ted, dig­ni­fied, pul­chri­tudi­nous. Some­one, please, sign her up for a se­ries of The Bach­e­lorette.)

Mother Na­ture is the real house­wife, not just of Auck­land, but of the whole damn planet. She’s in charge, and she knows it, which is why one day she’ll re­ward you with the sea­son’s first sun-ripened straw­berry or fragrant her­itage rose ooz­ing myrrh and musk, only to set a plague of aphids on to your ar­ti­chokes or rid­dle your peaches with rot the next.

Ev­ery­thing you’ve read (some of it writ­ten by me) about gar­den­ing be­ing good for your soul is hip­py­dippy pop­py­cock. Sure, re­search has shown gar­den­ing can keep you slim and trim, re­duce the risk of strokes and heart dis­ease, im­prove bal­ance and co­or­di­na­tion, stave off os­teo­poro­sis and de­men­tia, soothe stress, en­hance im­mu­nity to al­ler­gens, and save you money on gym sub­scrip­tions and gro­cery bills.

But where’s the med­i­cal ev­i­dence that gar­den­ing gets you in a good mood? Ac­tu­ally, there’s a vast tract of it. Ten re­cent stud­ies eval­u­ated by the Men­tal Health Re­view Jour­nal all found sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits from so-called ‘‘green ther­apy’’, in­clud­ing re­duced anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion and fewer men­tal health in­ter­ven­tions.

How­ever, one non-peer­re­viewed, non-ran­domised, highly un­sci­en­tific study con­ducted in the foothills of the Hunua Ranges this week came to a com­pletely dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion: gar­den­ing makes you mad as hell.

This week – the sec­ond of spring, no less – has seen more con­sec­u­tive frosts than we had all win­ter. Thanks, Jack, for black­en­ing my baby he­liotropes, freez­ing my frost-ten­der $20 ‘Sil­ver Lady’ ferns, slaugh­ter­ing my bean seedlings, shriv­el­ling my peren­nial stat­ice, and with­er­ing the tips off the vireya rhodo­den­drons I’d only just bought. Real nice of you, buddy.

This week, I also lost a dozen pun­nets of Tus­can kale seedlings to black­birds and my ‘Savoy’ cab­bages van­ished with­out trace the very day after I lifted the pro­tec­tive net­ting off them.

Pheas­ants, pukekos, rab­bits, rats, hares, and pos­sums: the cul­prits could be any or all of them. Since au­tumn, I’ve been try­ing to re­pel these es­uri­ent varmints from my veg­etable gar­den. The lo­cal ru­ral sup­plies store rec­om­mended Pin­done, an agri­cul­tural anti-co­ag­u­lant akin to the blood-thin­ning drug War­farin, but those mid­night ma­raud­ers won’t take the bait.

I’ve smeared sticky Stock­holm Tar, a con­cen­trated pine ex­tract usu­ally ap­plied to horse’s hooves but ap­par­ently also mal­odor­ous to mar­su­pi­als, on the fence posts to no avail. I’ve tried spray­ing newly trans­planted seedlings with Thi­ram, a fungi­cide sold for black spot, brown rot, red thread, botry­tis, and rust that just also hap­pens to re­pel larce­nous lep­ori­dae. It seems to work, but re­quires reap­pli­ca­tion after rain. Ditto the fetid fo­liar fish fer­tiliser; pos­sums aren’t pesc­etar­i­ans.

I don’t mind shar­ing the spoils of my soil but when all the freesias at our front gate, plus three beds of straw­ber­ries – a trial for NZ Gar­dener mag­a­zine – were eaten down to their stumps in a dawn raid, I de­clared war and hired a hit­man.

A few weeks back, while hav­ing a good old whinge on the ra­dio about the less bu­colic con­se­quences of coun­try liv­ing, a young man called Terry sent me an email. ‘‘I live down the road and I’m happy to come and take care of your rab­bits hu­manely,’’ he wrote. I phoned him on Mon­day. ‘‘Be as in­hu­mane as you like,’’ I said. ‘‘Just get the b......s.’’

Gar­den­ing might be good for you, but it doesn’t al­ways bring out the best in me. ❚

lynda.hal­li­nan@fair­fax­me­dia.co.nz

PHOTO: JA­SON DORDAY/FAIR­FAX NZ

The Real Housewives of Auck­land have noth­ing on Mother Na­ture. She’s the real bossy one, in con­trol of the whole world.

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