Mid-life gardening… fertile futility

By Christian Nielsen

You cut, trim, mulch, fertilise, spray, dig, weed, rake and tidy up for half your weekend. The other half you keep looking at what still needs doing as the futility of mid- gardening grows deep within.

1 July 2011

I just want to sit in the garden on a reclining chair, smell the , watch the kids play, and maybe drink a beer without feeling any guilt.

Guilt that the lawn needs cutting – again! Guilt that the hedge is getting unruly and it's only a matter of time before the neighbour collars me about it. Guilt that the spring bulbs have come and gone, and stuff needs mulching.

Guilt that I'm 42 years old and only mildly successful at most things I take up; from new languages to guitar-playing and cardio-fitness programmes. The garden is just one more thing in which I'll only have half-knowledge, half-interest, and no doubt half-arsed results. Is this the mid-life crisis I've been promised?

If so, then the next question is, do I get a BMW or Honda motorbike? And if so, can I get matching leather outfits and helmets for my wife and I?

I put this suggestion to her a couple of weeks back, and the answer was a firm ‘no'. ‘No' to the matching outfits, and an even bigger ‘no' to the motorbike.

So if big engines on two wheels are out, then how else can I express myself, purging my adolescent pangs and pains while building up my flaccid 40-plus ego? I guess a mistress or a fling would do the job – it's text book, right?

So, I asked my wife what she thought about that option. And she said ‘no' to that too. I shouldn't have been surprised. It was a big ask. But she is very sympathetic to my needs. Ever the supporting partner, she did offer a good reason for not allowing a fling … that it would just make me feel more guilty. Good point.

So, back to the guilt. I remember watching my brothers-in-law who are now exiting their and marvelled at their inability to sit down when everyone else was chilling out. They'd be brushing dogs, high-pressure cleaning BBQs and, yes, mowing and trimming lawns with ever-more-impressive tools.

I thought, why can't they just sit and relax?  And now I know. It's ownership, it's , it's decades of , it's mid-life (or should that be half-life?) … it's gardening. No matter what you do, the garden keeps growing and you just have to tender it, with the hope that one day you'll be able to enjoy it for what it is rather than what it should be.
It's a form of fertile futility… you nurture it despite yourself. You've started this thing – you took up guitar, you had (lovely) kids and yearned for a house in a leafy suburb.

It's Saturday today and hasn't stopped raining all day. I can't mow the lawn and the pile of cuttings will be too wet to move. Small mercies. But it's mid-Summer in Europe right now, so the sun will come out again, and that means one thing … how the garden grows!


  • Christian Nielsen

    Christian Nielsen is a journalist, copy writer and editor based in Brussels. He writes pretty much anything that takes his fancy, from the woes of travelling with kids to the dangers of antidepressants, but technology, EU affairs and science writing pay the bills.

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2 thoughts on “Mid-life gardening… fertile futility

  • Nicely done, Henrik. That or personal hygiene. Havne’t you got better things to do? Tennis court booked for this arvo?

  • I guess Voltaire meant something like that when claiming that “il faut cultiver son jardin”.


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