Future bags Posted on November 11, 2013

How carelessly, casually, unthinkingly did I once chuck armfuls, wheelbarrow loads, whole branches on the bonfire. How slowly, thoughtfully, with what infinite pains did I spend this afternoon dissecting, dividing, dismembering my prunings with my secateurs to cram them into the council’s black plastic bags.

It is the difference between the country garden and the urban one. There are no big gestures in a garden shorter than a cricket pitch and no wider than a front parlour. Nor in a garden whose only outlet is the exiguous all-purpose corridor between the back stairs and the front door.

There are compensations, though. Town gardening, I’ve decided, is like putting on reading glasses. The foreground is enlarged, the distance blurred. But the object of your attention appears in such clarity of detail that it can occupy your mind like a whole landscape. Is this what William Blake meant when he saw ‘a world in a grain of sand’?

Today’s job was reducing a climbing hydrangea that was blocking the eastern light from the new verandah, the library and the kitchen. They are powerful climbers, equipped for tall trees and long branches, their brown wood stout and flexible, their foliage dense and their flower heads many, copious and intricate. Structurally they are composed of multiple right angles or near right angles, each ready to snag a plastic film. The only way to fill a bag with them is to chop them into little bits. By the end of three bags I know their anatomy intimately. Hydrangea petiolaris is more than a mere acquaintance now.

I look round the garden, the falling leaves, the growing climbers, the old growth to be cleared away – not to mention the tree to be pollarded – and see a future of black plastic bags stretching away to the distance like crows on a telephone wire.

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