Waiting for summer’s end

2008-03-07 00:00

The garden has been usurped by bold and ubiquitous weeds. After a time away, our manicured terrain has become a veritable jungle, overrun with alien species, locusts and snakes. The lawn has been lopped back to a civilised length, but many of the flowerbeds have disappeared underneath insidious invaders. Stinging nettles have obliterated a bed of miniature Agapanthus at the edge of the forest, which threatens to creep and spill over into our unkempt garden in the form of a host of creepy plants and crawly creatures.

My daughter did a cartwheel on the lawn the other day and landed in a heap of golden giggles inches away from an angry juvenile red-lipped herald. It raised its infant head and hissed fiercely at us before slithering away into a bush. “Oh cute” we said, but mother must be near.

Most heartbreaking about the invasion is the meal that a swarm of hideously coloured locusts have made of my treasured bed of Clivias. I admit that I am not a keen gardener. I resist the backbreaking idea of bending over a bed of weeds in the African sun, never knowing what strange and hideous creature may hop or whir at my face in a flutter of wings and legs. One year I was pulling out clumps of unwanted busy lizzies by their juicy roots when I encountered a monstrous whip scorpion, millimetres from my hand. I screamed like oh murder most heinous, bringing my husband running, ghostly pale, to my side. I stood there shaking and hysterical, my arachnophobia none the wiser at the time that this long-legged creature did not fit into the spider mould.

But now I face locusts on what remains of my Clivia leaves and I must be brave and take action. Fierce after an incident in traffic, I hose them off with blasts of water, the children helping as we take them on, one at a time in a mock war. I choose to avoid insecticide out of respect for our incredible bird life. Birds, unlike insects and weeds, are welcome to their fecundity in our garden. I love the loud “kok-kok-kok-kok” of the louries calling to one another, while I hope to catch a glimpse of scarlet in flight. The Long-crested Eagles shriek to their mates, competing with the hadedas.

Furry animals are also welcome in our garden. However, I think the dogs scare them away. Little rust-coloured mongooses with long black tails dart across the road in front of my car with regularity and I have spotted reedbuck hiding shyly in the bushes near the verge. Oh, there is life here aplenty.

But summer is hot and menacing. The children swim smothered in sunscreen in the greening portable pool and I shelter indoors, while hankering for a real pool to throw myself into. And then the thunder rolls ominously in the distance and I wonder if it is time for them to come in, before a giant crack might split the sky in two and send my Labrador clambering through the window and scurrying under a bed. I feel alive amid these extremes: the blue sky and the smell of cut grass, the sound of thunder and the cacophony of frogs and crickets.

At night I want to sit with the windows flung open, but the mosquitoes plague my husband and children, and they complain and scratch and swat. Summer is gloriously wild, but when autumn melts in, the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, it shall not be too soon.

I will look out for friends, like the Brown-hooded Kingfisher that returns in autumn and perches on the garden furniture of the lower terrace. I wonder, year after year, whether it is the same (now ancient) bird returning or if the garden furniture appeals to the genetic make-up of this species.

When autumn is felt, I will breathe in the cool air, sit in the mild sun and sigh with relief as the wild ginger and bindweed, the nettles and the grass begin to slow down their evolutionary desire for worldwide domination. The dogs will not hanker after their fleas or fear the lightning that turns them into jelly. Death in the garden is discerning in autumn, because the plants with substance remain, steadfast and loyal, but the weeds and the unpleasant goggos tend to disappear, at least for a few revolutions of the planet. In the middle of winter, I will start hankering for spring and summer and swimming and mangoes all over again.

• Kate Richards is a full-time mother and freelance copywriter.

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