Vegging out

Whenever I see droplets on my plants, I say a little prayer that it isn’t dog pee.

Out of all the personal achievements I most prize from my time in Berlin so far, the greatest is this: I am finally in possession of my very own garden. Admittedly it’s about the area of a large dining table and it’s surrounded by dozens of other people’s tiny gardens which seem to be doing their level best to froth over and infest mine, but mine it is, five square metres of land. It wasn’t easy to get; dedicated readers might remember the application process which might have scared a more delicate person away in the first place. The first time I applied, I was turned away due to the unlucky draw of a straw. Then, out of nowhere, an email came to me in the dwindling weeks of winter to tell me that a bed had become available and it was mine if I wanted it (I wasn’t even first in the waiting list so they must have felt guilty for breaking the heart of a chubby-cheeked English dearie the last time).

For just sixteen euros a year I took possession of a crooked rectangle of earth which, when I first laid eyes on it, was mounded in a huge pubic tangle of Bohnenkraut, a herb which the Germans are incredibly fond of but has yet to catch on in the UK. It looks and smells vaguely like thyme only with a vaguely sour afternote, and unlike thyme it grows and spreads so quickly you can practically see it creeping along in front of your naked eyes. My first few sessions on the plot, then, were heavy stints of violent activity with the garden fork, tearing out great clumps of Bohnenkraut and weeds and all manner of other invasive things that had rooted deep down into the sandy soil. I covered it with newspaper in between weekends so that it would die down from lack of sunlight, but nothing would kill it; it simply became a perky foliage afro wearing a cap of damp newspaper, and the other people on the garden started to get cranky with me for spoiling the ambiance of the place with my trashy set-up. In the end I tore it all out, save for a small clump which I potted up for a co-worker who left it in the office kitchen where it sprawled around like a maniac, growing inches by the day until our erratic cleaning lady threw it away.

I raked the soil into a tilth, marked out some rows, and planted beetroot, radishes, peas, carrots, peppers, and herbs in little clusters. Then I realised that I hadn’t thought to buy any plant labels and had absolutely no idea what I had planted where. The first couple of weeks were agony as I watched the earth fill with little sprouts and had no idea which ones I should be tearing out and which ones were one day going to be proudly mingling in a soup.

Everything happily motored along, making new leaves and gradually distinguishing the real veg from the weeds, which I ripped out of the earth before they could even so much as flip my veggies the bird. But down at my garden the weeds have some kind of racket going. They are bigger, stronger and faster than most weeds; in fact, ‘weeds’ is a misnomer, because these are more like Biff in Back to the Future, unpredictable and bulky and by no means weedy. There was a brief episode in the middle of the story when I skipped a session down at the garden and came back a little while later to discover everything in the bed on the verge of shrivelled, dehydrated death, while the pumpkins and courgettes had just given up and were lying on the soil as translucent skeletons; I nearly cried. The weeds had, in that short space of time, simply carpeted the entire bed and it looked like someone had just emptied huge bags of salad in a near-perfect rectangle on the ground. Since then I have taken to weeding without my gardening gloves on because I like the feel of the little bastards between my fingers, the sensation of that sudden tug when you know you’ve eased the root out of its comfy bed and can pull out the whole thing in one. 

So now I’m down on the garden every single weekend, often more than once. It’s a scrappy little plot of land in the middle of nowhere down by the station, neighbouring a slightly terrifying nightclub which is a completely unlabelled and boarded-up concrete building, constantly throbbing with techno fury even on calm Sunday mornings. Dodgy people like to mosey past as I’m weeding and shout things at me, although I must admit that I would prefer not to have to crouch on the ground with my arse in the air for two hours in such an exposed public place if there were an alternative. One dodgy person in particular is a regular around the garden; he’s a bulky old man with long, greasy hair and an enormous black Great Dane who is as tall as myself and likes to come and bump up against me when I arrive at the garden in a scary-nudgy kind of way, like he might swallow my entire head at any moment. Then there are the bus drivers; behind the garden is one of the waiting spots for the BVG rail-replacement buses, and the drivers get out of the buses while they’re waiting and smoke together, and it’s like seeing behind the scenes of a really boring Broadway show.

It’s no rural idyll, but it’s mine.

Rose T