Pottering About In The Garden

May 11th  2006

I don’t know in which book I first came across the term ‘pottering about in the garden’, but it was probably in one of the Just William books or maybe The Famous Five series that I read when I became interested in reading when I was aged about twelve. I was attracted to the phrase at once; it sounded such a cosy, English, way in which to occupy oneself, and I couldn’t wait until I was grown up and I would be able to potter about in a garden myself (I assumed that children couldn’t potter about in the garden because whenever I came across the expression it was always being done by an adult, and usually an older adult; also it sounded like something that was done by grown-ups rather than children).

In those days I couldn’t even pretend, as children do, to potter about in the garden,
as we lived in a mean terrace house which didn’t have a garden in which to potter, just paving stones at the front of the house and at the back a backyard not big enough to swing a landlord in. So when I married The Trouble and we eventually got a house of our own, with a small garden, I was naturally eager to get some pottering time in.

It never happened.

Since I first ventured into a garden all those years ago with a virgin spade and uncalloused hands I have never once pottered. I have dug, double-dug, forked, raked, hoed, chopped, sawed and hammered, all of which are far too strenuous activities to be classed as ‘to busy oneself in a mild way with trifling tasks’, which is the dictionary definition of ‘pottering’. I have mowed lawns, trimmed hedges, turned over flower beds, laid paving stones, humped bags of compost and fertilizers, and in the course of this have been bitten by ants and stung by wasps, bees and hornets, and on one occasion savaged by a stray dog; none of which are mild or trifling.

It eventually dawned on me that there was no such thing as pottering about in the garden, except in books, and that I never would potter, I would go through life as a non-potterer. Until yesterday.

I’d been giving the garden a general spring tidying up, uprooting triffids and other monster-like weeds that had sprung up in the borders over the winter, preparatory to planting something more colourful and less intrusive. One of the weeds was particularly hard to dislodge. I took a firm hold of it, braced myself, gave an almighty heave…and it shot out of the ground much more easily than I had anticipated and sent me staggering back a couple of steps. The second of the steps caused me to put my foot onto the business end of a garden rake I’d carelessly left on the ground and the other end of it shot up and cracked me a nasty blow on the side of the head, gashing my temple. When I’d stopped hollering and seeing stars I went into the kitchen to attend to it. The Trouble was one the phone. “Your dad?” she said, to whoever was on the other end of the phone, either my son or one of my daughters. “Oh he’s pottering about in the garden.”