It doesn't have to be like this

By ABBIE JURY

When I went into print a couple of years ago being very critical of Maggie’s Garden Show on TV, it frankly never occurred to me that the replacement programme that was to come could be so much worse.

Ground Force, the new Friday night gardening show, makes us think that maybe Maggie Barry was all that stood between us and the philistines and we should thank her in retrospect for attempting to keep some hint of horticultural merit.

When our children were little, they used to watch a programme called Playschool. I think we are now viewing a gardening programme that is akin to Playschool Gardening meets a lightweight women’s magazine. Bah humbug.

We deserve better.

But wait, there is worse. The makeover show Back to Basics, which assaults our senses every Monday evening, is closer to Sesame Street meets Wannabe Celebrity Ground Force meets Men Behaving Badly. The most gripping part of this programme is the body language between the three protagonists. But tell me I misheard when the plan to plant 100 griselinias in the front yard was revealed. Along with robinia moptops.

By way of contrast, there is Garden Stories, a charming little English programme on the Living Channel on Sunday morning at 10.30am – just in time for morning coffee. No flashy camera work and intrusive presenters here. The garden owners sit and chat about their gardens and their thoughts. I assume that somewhere in the making of this show is a very skilled interviewer who knows the right questions to ask and how to draw out their subjects. But all that is edited out so that all we see is the garden and the gardener talking about it in a very leisured fashion. A voice-over connects the different stories but there is no presenter. And the humour is underplayed and natural. I guess the Brits have always had first dibs on eccentrics but I can’t believe they have totally cornered this international market.

Last Sunday, four gardeners showed us their patches. The hairdresser had a wonderfully manicured garden and talked about how she liked to keep her one acre of garden immaculate – snip snip with the scissors as she deadheaded and drew parallels to cutting hair. Unobtrusively she showed how to stake perennials and to present them well.

The nude gardeners (which may not be to everybody’s taste – Mark was moved to compare my middle-aged body in favourable terms!) gave a philosophy of gardening diametrically opposed to the hairdresser. They talked of working with nature and of how there are no straight lines in nature. The differing viewpoints were food for thought.

The dinner host whose outdoor garden was solely for entertaining told us where to get really good canopies built (a ship’s chandler understands the principles far better than a garden centre or business that makes window screens). And his garden was reminiscent of a Chelsea showpiece.

If you don’t have Sky, find a friend who does to video this charming programme for you. And I do wish New Zealand programme makers would realise that gardening is not necessarily flashy gimmickry and that we do not all suffer from an attention span of about three minutes.

At a more practical level, the possums are moving in for winter. When our children were little, all three were bad sleepers who woke repeatedly during the night. As I used to rise blearily all the time, I sometimes resented Mark slumbering on. Little did I know then that, while I had around 10 years of disturbed sleep, he would have the rest of his lifetime getting up at night to shoot possums. Now I lie warm and tucked up as he answers the call of the dogs.

Both our dogs sleep on the doorstep. Zephyr, a timid Sheltie, is a wonderful possum dog who prowls much of the night. Frequently he chases them up trees and then barks until Mark appears with the gun. Merlot, a totally confident but lazy fox terrier, doesn’t bother getting out of his bed until he is assured that there is indeed a possum waiting and Mark is coming to deal to it. There is no point in wasting good sleeping time.

We do, of course, live in the country. Getting out with the gun in the middle of the night is not to be recommended if you are a city dweller. Indeed, I suspect it is only determined country dwellers who do it but many a possum is no match for Mark and the dogs. He thought he had hit the one in the poplar tree the other night as it fell around 10 metres to the ground, hitting with a whump. But no, it recovered its equilibrium very quickly to hurtle down the park. Mark returned to bed, only to be dragged out again soon after as Zephyr had one up a tree in the park. Probably the same varmint. Mark shot it, but it did not appear dead and, because he had run out of bullets, he returned to the house for more. This time he was sure it was dead but it remained lodged in the tree.

As Zephyr does not give up until the carcass has been retrieved, Mark found a bamboo pole to try to poke the beastie down. It remained resolutely wedged but, rising to the challenge, Mark located the ladder, which was nearby.

As the possum was beyond the reach of the ladder, he ended up climbing the tree to get it down. All this accomplished clad in night attire and gumboots with yours truly still tucked up safely in bed. I have no plans to learn to use the gun.

If it wasn’t for this night-time vigilance, we would likely have no orange or mandarin crop. But even worse than this is the inclination for possums to develop a taste for the fattening buds on the magnolias. Each year we get a phone call from somebody who is concerned that their magnolia is opening with distorted blooms. It is only with the benefit of experience that we know this is a pesky possum who has discovered the taste treat of a fresh young bud. They are also renowned for liking fresh rose buds and foliage.

If you are a town dweller, you have little choice but to use a cage trap or one of those plastic boxes that contain an oversized mouse trap. Until he is old and decrepit, Mark will stick to the high-velocity lead and resulting free dog food. Canberra daughter is constantly amazed at the reverence the Aussies have for the possum and how some even boast of having a resident one in their roof. Pity the pest did not stay on their side of the Tasman. *

*Abbie and Mark Jury have a garden and nursery at Otaraoa Rd, Tikorangi.