Tori and her husband Ricardo live in a ground-floor flat in Morningside, and when calling late at night, I usually find them drinking in the garden. The garden does not belong to Tori and Ricardo, but to the tenement as a whole, and it is quietly hated by everyone in the tenement except for the family on the second floor who have assumed responsibility for its upkeep. “I like the garden better at night, in the dark,” Tori will mutter. There is some sort of contraption in the garden – a climbing frame, I think, although I have never seen it in the daylight – and Tori will always berate her husband for monkeying about on this thing. “Get down! It’s filthy!” she will hiss as it creaks and clatters in the darkness.
The world may have concluded that the British are dreadful at making love, but this nation is also uniquely talentless at gardening. In the typical British garden, the flowers will be arranged around a large bare patch of lawn, like an elaborate frame for an empty canvas. The crowning achievement of the British garden will be forty square foot of pure lawn – bereft of plantain, dandelions, and daisies – and to accomplish this, all the weeds in the lawn will be systematically killed, in a cleansing which all too often enacts repressed fantasies about racial purity. The remaining plants in the British garden are always unruly and need “cutting back,” just as British children need to be smacked and their pets neutered. The British gardener regards his plants as hippies who are overdue a good haircut. Bushes should be literally “square”, their untidy edges trimmed into perfect lines.
The British gardener will exterminate all of the insects in their garden, and then complain loudly that there are no birds any more. Once Nature has been defeated, the British gardener completes his conquest by triumphantly erecting some hideous eyesore, just as one may poke a Union Jack into a mountaintop. There is the child’s playcentre deathtrap, a filthy and rusting tangle of swings and slide, which the children will ritually use a couple of times a year. Perhaps the British gardener will opt for the miniature fishpond or the plastic gazebo. Maybe they will decide upon the ornamental birdbath, although this will be routinely scrubbed with a disinfectant solution to eradicate moss, leaving all the visiting birds to perish in unspeakable agony. There will, of course, be a shed, for the hundreds of tools needed to subdue the half an acre of garden, and the very wood of the shed will be varnished into an exquisite dayglo orange, which pierces the calm of the garden like a klaxon siren. In any event, the British garden is a monument to the hatred and fear of the natural world.