garden veteran

Mr Rostov is in his nineties and has trouble with his legs. As I walk up the drive he’s ineffectually prodding around with his trowel in a raised flowerbed, somehow managing to stay upright with his legs as splayed as a giraffe at a water hole.
‘I’ve got so many pins and plates in me,’ he says, using my arm as support and struggling upright, ‘…last time I went down the scrap yard I ended up swinging from the magnet.’
He takes the cap from his head and breaks into a smile so deep and gappy I wouldn’t be surprised if he waggled his ears. ‘Still,’ he says, wiping his forehead with a hankie, ‘so long as I don’t go for a swim, I’ll be all right.’
Despite his legs, Mr Rostov still has the wherewithal to take care of his garden. It’s obviously difficult for him, though. The garden is looking pretty wild, with only traces of the original planting struggling through, marigold, fuschia and lupin flowers lost amongst the general tangle of weeds and seeding grass.
‘Just look the other way,’ he says, as if I’d said something out loud. He waves his trowel in the general direction of everything. ‘I may be slow, but I’m stubborn, and I’ll get there in the end.’
‘I’m sure you will,’ I tell him. ‘Anyway, I’ve always preferred a more relaxed garden.’
‘You’re very kind and you can most definitely come again.’
He puts his cap back on, more like a beret, come to think of it, with a winged badge off to the side.
We stand there looking over the garden for a moment.
‘Here’s a question’ I say.
‘Go on.’
‘How do you keep the slugs off if you don’t want to use pellets?’
‘I don’t know,’ he says. ‘Get some animals in that eat the damned things.’
‘Like what?’
‘Frogs, hedgehogs, that sort of chap.’
‘I can’t remember the last time I saw a hedgehog. I think everyone using pellets has killed them off.’
‘Oh, I don’t think it does them any harm.’
‘No. They changed the recipe. I don’t think it’s that.’
‘It can’t help, though, can it? I haven’t seen a hedgehog for years, and you used to see them all the time.’
‘There just aren’t the gardens for them like there used to be,’ he says. ‘Still, you can always get some at the pet shop.’
‘What – hedgehogs?’
‘Absolutely! Depends on the shop, of course. You can buy yourself half a dozen and send them in to fight the slugs. Operation Market Garden! How about that!’ But then he suddenly seems to think better of it, and sucks his teeth thoughtfully for a moment. ‘Although maybe that’s not quite the analogy,’ he says, repositioning his beret. ‘Poor bloody hedgehogs.’

4 thoughts on “garden veteran

  1. Isn’t he lovely! What a great story.

    My dad is 88 and now gardens from a chair with a long handled tool he made himself for weeding, raking, digging and so on. Occasionally he uses his e-scooter to collect cuttings. You don’t want to know how he harvests his apples, we all have lost sleep over that one but at least he no longer climbs the trees.


  2. Your dad sounds absolutely amazing, Sabine – a man after my own heart (although I should probably qualify that slightly by saying I got so focused on pruning a tree back the other day I fell off the ladder…)

    I wish we had a garden for ducks here. I’d totally go for that otherwise. We’ve got a small pond with some frogs & newts, but I’m not sure how well they do in the slug-snacking line. I’ve only ever seen them sunning themselves on rocks &c, occasionally sitting with their heads just above the water line, thinking (not about slugs, obviously).

    How does he harvest the apples? (Had to ask.) I’m guessing a long stick with a glove stuck on the end and an upside-down bonnet on his head…


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