The Big Issue : Edition 459
THE BIG ISSUE 23 MAY – 5 JUNE 2014 13 RAZER PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND(RAZER)ANDALANATTWOOD(RICKY) THE DEMON DIRT PEAK FEVER » Helen Razer (@helenrazer) is a thinker, writer and, well yes, gardener. She’s also the style adviser who recommended the ‘bearded lady’ look to Austria’s winner of the Eurovision song contest. “All it takes is a glance in the wrong direction and the near- ineluctable addiction to gardening takes hold.” IT’S HAPPENED AGAIN. I thought I’d done with the deep chaos, with the thrill of acquisition and the ecstasy that follows. I was through with the high cost and the pain and the hours spent outside and alone in a demimonde trance of false promise. That life of escape and temporary idyll was ended for good. And then, I gave myself just one little fix... All it takes is a glance in the wrong direction and the near-ineluctable addiction to gardening takes hold. For two years, I had the thing in check. I mowed. I weeded. I grew tomatoes less out of genuine interest than the demands of local custom; everyone in my suburb stakes a Tommy Toe in summer. I was happy to do the polite minimum and drip-feed myself a sort of horticultural methadone. I did not crave the hard stuff: green manure, heirloom vegetables or the purchase of rare bulbs. Then. There it was; the right item in the wrong place and time that pierces through the years of the addict’s resolve. After years of sobriety, the alcoholic sees a perfect martini lit amid the shadows. Having sworn off casinos, the reformed gambler cannot resist a Cup Day sweep. Following seasons of the most detached yard maintenance, the compulsive gardener crashes into a discount seed catalogue online. Hollyhock. Foxglove. Larkspur. It starts with annual border plants. And, once you’ve called the landscaping suppliers and asked them to deliver two cubic metres of their best pH-balanced compost- enriched soil and, heck, maybe a bag of blood-and-bone and just a bale of Lucerne, it never ends. Even as I write these words, I am, in the least figurative way, up to my elbows in shit. Organically produced sheep shit from a humane farm, to be specific. This was my latest quixotic order from an afternoon where I imagined a tangle of heritage tea-roses that would ramble all over the garage, the fence and the entire postcode. If gardening is to be compared to any narcotic, it is an amphetamine. One dreams large, buys large and fails large. There is a mountain of sheep poo in the driveway and in this rare instant of clarity, I can see the truth of my own revved-up conceit illuminated. In big, bright, marquee letters. It says, “Helen. Stop planting noisette roses in stupid places.” I have obsessive tendencies but these are diminished, financially at least, by my frugal nature; the nature that sees me compost lint from the dryer and turn my loo-roll tubes into seedling pots. So, it’s not so much the hobby purchases that are the chief problem. It’s the hobby itself. I can always quit ordering hybrid roses, hyperlocal natives and beneficial insects. (Yes. I have bought insect larvae to start a biological war in the vegie patch. That’s a known symptom of true gardening addiction.) What I cannot quit is thinking, digging and dreaming up a confusion of botanical dreams. I go to sleep with thoughts of my Casablanca iris and wake with the memory of my Tuscan kale. I propagate cuttings and raise saved seeds and make nitrogen tea, which has a stink so acrid that I am reminded that the pleasure has drained from this pastime and been replaced by a compulsion to dig and plant and mulch. Functioning alcoholics are careful with the hours they keep at the bottle shop; they know how to avoid an attendant on a particular shift. Like a mad old spinster who is fuelled by cream sherry, I now garden in the front yard at times when I know the street is at its emptiest. To avoid detection. I sometimes garden in the dark. I can try to hide it, but my garden itself has become a record of my insanity, of the obsession that borders on green-hued madness. To the average passer-by, the front yard probably just looks like a jumble of cottage plants and excess manure. To the fellow addict, it is a document of growing trouble.