My Eden comes alive

I have lived my life trying to evade working with soil because my hands are my prize asset.

I have lived my life trying to evade working with soil because my hands are my prize asset.

But that situation changed recently after scary faces ran my buzzer amok looking for "piece jobs". My heart sank for the people, but my empathy was diluted by a silent voice that kept telling me I could be letting my killer into my home. Besides that, they charge an arm and a leg.

So entered the DIY solution. I was so excited to do a bit of gardening myself that I couldn't wait for the morning as I lay in my comfy bed.

The next morning, I combed the hardware shop around the corner for gardening tools. It was scary that a trimmer costs more than R1000 and everything else is just as pricey. Who would have thought that a simple wheelbarrow would cost the equivalent of a good mountain bike?

As I examined the tools, one after the other, men looked at me as if I was a testosterone case.

I don't doubt that some even thought that I had captured my victim and wanted to finish him off with a garden rake. One man asked sarcastically if he could give me a hand later at home. But with my resolve, I was done depending on men. I was going to prove to myself that there's nothing like a man's job.

Back in the garden, with my hands safely tucked inside the comforting sheath of rubber gloves, I attempted to trim the shrubs that were dropping dead leaves on my visitors' heads.

Alas, the shrubs were too high. Now I knew why my neighbour kicks her shrubs.

I called my cartoon-junkie child to bring me a chair and as she sluggishly dragged it behind her, I could have screamed. By the time she finally gave it to me, the sun was baking my SPF-free face.

It was then that I decided to get a hat - the expensive one I had bought to wear at the O tea party, but had forgotten at the office. But the haute couture hat kept flopping over my face, blocking my view. How does a R500 hat flop like that? Sunglasses, I thought? Bad idea. Then the penny dropped - the Sowetan cap from the team- building excursion. Aha!

After a full 30 minutes, all I had managed to do was to cover my hands and face.

Standing on the chair, I clipped and the trimmer cut off a branch. Good, now we were getting somewhere at last. Another one from the same spot and one from the other side and then my left arm started to ache.

"Maybe I should take a break and have some water," I thought as I found myself almost getting into the fridge. And my dreadlocks were competing with the trees in the garden. Outdoors was beckoning, but the cartoons seemed much more appealing.

An hour later, my tools were still waiting outside and I knew that I had flunked the gardening mission. It then dawned on me that I should not be doing manual work, that I'm not really cut out for such energy-consuming labour.

Wait a minute I thought, the gardener's expo had advised that one should have an overhaul project before attempting the bull-by-the-horns approach.

A manual I picked up at the expo advises first-time gardeners to design a dream garden because it makes maintenance a pleasure. I couldn't agree more. My home's previous owners thought they had a botanical arrangement. They were hung up on bottle brushes, ferns, irises, strelitzia reginae and other plants that screamed "old regime".

I decided to call in professional landscapists. They took one look at my garden and gave me a look that said: "Be prepared to sell your liver."

But it cost me a lot less than my liver. For R1000, my garden was given a semi make-over and a lot of plants were removed, leaving ample space for my favourite plants and flowers.

"First you need to remove all the weeds and dead plants," said the green-fingered Josiah Xulu of the Pula Landscapers.

"You also need compost to invigorate the soil and prepare it for the new plants. That should be followed up by watering the soil well," he rambled on.

I was annoyed that I had spent a lot of hard-earned cash on tools that I would not use.

But Xulu assured me that it need not be the case because I should trim my trees and give them a hug to really make them thrive. Well, so much for empowerment.

To avoid wasting my money and making a fool of myself again, I was given the following gardening tips:

Gardening maintenance:

l Maintenance is always easier to keep up if you design your garden.

l The sooner the plants are planted, the more time they have to become established. Plants bought in containers may be left in them for a few days. However, to avoid plants drying out, they should be planted in the ground as soon as possible.

l Spring is the best time to plant perennials because they will have plenty of time to be well established before the summer heat sets in.

Spring is also a good time to transplant and/or divide perennials. Perennials may be planted during the summer, but the plants are more susceptible to drying out.

If planted in the summer, it is important to water them daily for at least a week.

Autumn is also a good time for planting perennials because the heat of the summer would have passed and the plants would still have time to become established prior to the harsh winter.

l Over-raking the soil will create very "thin" soil that will turn to mud when it rains. When the soil dries, a hard crust will form and plants may not be able to penetrate the crust.

l Always remove all the weeds from the garden.

l Plant when the soil, not just the air, is warm.

l To make the soil more workable, lightly water the areas that you intend planting in. This should be done approximately an hour before planting. Avoid over- watering the area.

l To avoid stressing the plants, planting is best done during a light rain, after it rains, in the late afternoon or on a cloudy day.

l Mulching around the plants will keep weeds to a minimum, help retain moisture and keep the roots cool.

l Ensurethere is good drainage or the roots might rot or become disease or insect-ridden.

l Always try to set plants in the ground at the same depth as they were in the container that they were sold in.