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Date

Jackie French

Don't feel guilty if you decide that your garden is more work than you can do, Jackie French writes

True gardeners are not boasters. Slightly smug, perhaps, as they present you with a jar of eggplant kasundi, which, as well as being delicious, demonstrates that they managed to coax eggplants from Canberra's short growing season. (Tip: choose mini eggplants, which, as well as being delicious, mature faster; the same applies to mini melons.)

True gardeners are all too aware of their weeds and unpruned apple trees, unlike those who know that their gardening service has taken care of bothersome chores, as well as made sure the annuals were planted at staggered intervals through the year to ensure the right colour at the right moment.

When true gardeners take you through their garden, they tend to bore you with their failures (''We've tried two boronias here already but it was just the wrong spot.'') as well as accepting compliments on the size of their pumpkins.

On the other hand, true gardeners who have creaky knees, not enough hours in the week, or realise they need a second pair of hands (and legs and shoulders and eyes etc) to get the seasonal jobs done may also employ some help.

Garden help ranges from fully qualified landscape gardeners to well-equipped mowing services, tree loppers and other specialists, as well experienced amateurs, or just a strong but inexperienced back (and knees) to help you do the heavy/boring bits.

I've usually gone for the latter, mostly because any experienced gardener tries to dissuade me from growing bananas, or lillipillies from Cape York. Yes, I KNOW they probably won't survive - but I want to know for sure. As a matter of fact, both survived, though the bananas taste of nothing in particular and don't crop every year.

A large part of my gardening is experiment is the fact that the failures are as fascinating as the successes. As with any job, you will pay more for expertise. If you're not an expert, it's worth it.

Do not feel guilty if you decide that your garden is more work than you can or want to do. Two hours a week of paid gardening help can give you vegies and fruit for the family, plus eggs from the chooks, which makes that investment of time and energy most definitely cost effective.

It will also mean that you don't feel guilty every time you look at the weed patch that should be a patch of petunias.

You might even find someone willing to ''time share'' your garden (depending on where you live and your soil and aspect) - someone who doesn't have a garden of their own and will turn your backyard into veg, in exchange for an equal share of the resulting produce, or 30/70 if they supply tools, hoses, fertilisers and other necessities. There are an infinite number of possible arrangements.

One of the most fun is an exclusive garden club - four friends who take it in turns to revamp each other gardens, putting down paving with the help of 32 useful books from the library (note: read the instructions the night before - librarians are not keen on cement stains on the pages), painting garden furniture or shed walls, building terraces or compost bins or just digging up the back lawn to plant corn and beans this spring.

A garden of flowers, fruit and veg is a glorious backdrop for a happy life. But it doesn't have to be your hands that do all the tending - or you knees that lift the weeds.

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