Sandy’s Garden ... The Root of the Problem

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

Years ago – I really forget how many, but it must be twenty or even more – it was possible to get a free compost bin simply for the asking.

I asked; and I received an impressively large, substantial plastic bin with a small removable hatch at the bottom and a tight, press-fit lid, the whole ensemble in a very dark green colour. I have to say that I do not recall ever having seen one of these bins in anyone else’s garden; but then, since mine is right at the back of my garden, tucked away in a secluded corner, I don’t suppose many people have seen my bin.

Whatever, I positioned my newly-acquired compost bin in its chosen home, neglecting to do anything other than level the ground on which it was to sit. And I duly deposited some of my garden waste therein … some spent compost, some leaves, some dead bedding plants, withered flowers, the odd spent, small pot plant, that sort of thing, adding some compost maker from time to time. The main bulk of my garden rubbish I bagged at intervals and transported to a council coup … sorry, recycling site … for I usually had far too much for my compost bin after any serious garden clean-up. Again, from time to time I removed the little hatch at the base of the bin and extracted a small quantity of rather well-composted material which I used to supplement newly-bought, commercially-produced compost for filling up pots. And little by little, I actually added more material than I removed finding, as the weight of compost in the bin increased, that the compost behind the hatch became ever-more compacted, making it ever-more difficult to coax out of its hiding place.

Recently, my gardening guru having decided which ‘room’ in our garden was to be ‘redecorated’ … Alison looks on sections of the garden as rooms, one of which should be refurbished each year … and having decreed that she needed compost, I decided to take the bull by the horns and empty the compost bin for the very first time. There must be as much compost in there as she needed, I reasoned, recognising that I might have quite a job to get it all out but reckoning that this assignment was long overdue. I set to with a will, attacking the compacted material immediately behind the now-removed access hatch and retrieving difficult shovelful after hard-to-get shovelful to be bagged for carrying to the work site. At my time of life, bending double to drive a shovel into compacted compost, straightening up to transfer the material to a sack before bending double to win the next shovelful is hard going.

I soon realised that my task was being made harder by the presence of some pretty tough roots in the compost. I didn’t recall ever having deposited anything more than the small roots of spent bedding plants in the bin, but it seemed that I must have done, for here were some substantial roots. Well, it must be possible to pull them free, for they must be dead and frangible, I reasoned. Wrong! Tug though I might, they remained resolutely intact and embedded in the compost. It took quite a bit of ill-tempered time to prise loose enough of the compressed soil to ascertain that these were very much live roots. They were, in fact, the roots of nearby hedging plants which had grown beneath the outer edges of the compost bin and then made their happy upwards way into the nutritious growing material I had provided for them, thoughtfully leaving their access clear by not having made a proper base for the bin these many years ago.

Well, the presently-empty compost bin now sits on a proper base made from concrete slabs. I hope, and trust, that I have got to the root of the problem of winning shovelfuls of rich growing medium from garden waste. But my strained back wonders if it was really worth it!