One I remember involved a “tiny bonfire” at a friend’s overgrown and tinder-dry garden (you can guess what came next).
There were also several incidents involving go-karts and the bus station wall, not to mention the Guy Fawkes guy I dressed in dad’s old clothes which, it turned out too late, weren’t old clothes at all. These days I get myself into much bigger scrapes – well, one scrape in particular.
The one in my wildlife area. This sort of scrape is a shallow pond of the sort you see in nature reserves. It’s a haven for wildlife – far greener than conventional ponds, water features and fountains – and being low-tech there’s virtually no maintenance.
Think of it as an intentional puddle. It’s meant to look as if rainwater has gathered naturally in a shallow depression in the ground. Instead of having vertical sides with hard surrounds like a formal pond, a scrape has very gently shelving edges consisting of sandy or gravelly “beaches” or turf running right down into the water.
The gradual slope makes it easy for all sorts of creatures to walk in and out to drink or take a bath. There will be waterside wildflowers growing in the shallows, which provide valuable habitats for water creatures such as dragonfly larvae.
A good scrape looks very handsome and is beneficial for the environment since there’s bags of biodiversity and it doesn’t waste water.
If you fancy getting into a scrape yourself, winter is the very best time to start work. Begin by marking out your site. Simply enlarge a natural depression if you have one in the garden, otherwise mark out a rough saucer-shape and dig it out a few inches deep.
Even if the site is normally a tad boggy, it’s worth lining the scrape to help it hold water, otherwise it could vanish in a hot summer. Proper butyl pond liner is best but you could get away with strong black polythene.
Fit the lining down into your depression leaving plenty of slack coming up and over the sides, then trim off the excess so there’s a foot of spare liner all round the edge and bury it under a few inches of soil. Leave the “puddle” to fill with rain over the winter.
Don’t worry if it goes a bit green at first, it’s only natural. When you are ready for phase two, start to landscape the edges. Use gravel and big smooth stones to make “beaches” in some places and elsewhere unroll grassy turves so they run right down into the sides of the scrape.
Then in spring buy pots of moisture-loving wildflowers such as lady’s smock and primroses to plant in the grass round the edge.
Put marginal plants such as marsh marigolds and bog bean in some mud in the shallow water near the edge, then add one or two upright aquatic plants such as arrowhead to make “islands” further out.
In no time you’ll have a natural water feature from which you’ll find it hard to tear yourself away. All it needs is a nice bench so you can sit and watch wildlife arrive. It soon will – birds and beasts love getting into a scrape.
Strawberry tree’s a real late bloomer
WHEN the rest of the garden is winding down, there’s one plant that’s just starting to put on its big annual show – the strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo.
It’s a small evergreen tree that grows up to 8ft or a large shrub that can also be trained into standard “lollipop” shapes for growing in large tubs, making it suitable for tiny gardens or patios.
A pair of them either side of a front door looks smart all year round, even when they are just leafy.
But at this time of year the strawberry tree suddenly struts its stuff. Sprays of small, white bell-shaped flowers emerge from the tips of the shoots, so a standard trained tree will be covered. At the same time last year’s fruits, which have lurked almost unseen, ripen to a blazing red.
They are round, rough coated and carried in small bunches – not terribly strawberry-like it’s true (more like Christmas-tree baubles) but they do look good.
The contrast with the flowers is so dramatic, even though it always seems strange to have flowers and ripe fruit on the same plant at the same time – a trick you normally associate with lemons and similar citrus trees.
But the strawberry tree has more than mere good looks going for it.
It’s terribly tolerant. It takes to town and city life since it puts up with traffic fumes and dust and it’s happy beside the seaside as it copes with salt spray.
“Can you eat the fruit?” people always ask. Well, the “strawberries” won’t do you any harm but they don’t taste of anything.
Much better to leave them on the plant looking pretty.
The complete show of flowers and ripe fruit lasts for roughly two months, from now until the end of November, which is good going for such a concentrated out-of-season display.