Garden Design

  1. Time Well Spent?

    Time Well Spent?

    I’ve found another survey to read. I do like a ‘on average’ type statistic, even though I know full well it probably isn’t backed by any scientific rigour or indeed, value. They are fun and somehow worm their way into becoming fact. Often quoted and usually referred to when supporting an argument.

    gardening statistics

    According to this particular survey I was reading, on average a gardener in the UK spends six and a half hours a year raking leaves. That same average gardener spends just over two days watering, solidly, for a year. He or she only spends half a day maintaining their plants. How about a quarter of a day painting fences and sheds? And every year, you will find that gardener jet washing the patio for four concrete, or stone, hours. A whole day a year is divided between mowing the lawn and cutting the hedges. According to the survey that is.

    more gardening statistics

    However, the survey hasn’t included some important gardening stats. Based on deep scientific principles, extensive market research and in-depth analysis of the figures (OK, asking our twelve-year-old where the calculator function is on my mobile phone), I can exclusively reveal that on average this particular gardener spends:

    • 365 hours a year drinking hot beverages in the garden. FACT. (see note *)
    • 30 hours a year tying/untying gardening boot laces. FACT. (see note **)
    • 12 hours a year shouting at pigeons. FACT. (see ***)
    • 6 hours a year muttering ‘aggghhh’ at freshly emerged bindweed shoots. FACT. (see note ****)
    • 2 hours a year locking/unlocking a shed/greenhouse/garage. FACT. (see note *****)
    • Zero hours per year wondering if I’m doing the wrong hobby. FACT. (see note ******)

    funny-gardening-statistics

    So, adding all those ‘official’ survey stats, all the other mush and tosh on the internet, my own highly researched figures above to this little lot:

    • If you are a driver then you will spend around 32 hours in traffic jams.
    • You may even be reading this on your phone or tablet standing in a queue - in the UK each and every one of spends 18 hours tutting at the snake of people before us at the post office, supermarket, football ground or doctors.
    • Don’t forget we spend 3000 hours sleeping every year.

    25-hour-clockAnd you will find that most gardeners actually have 25 hours in a day, 8 days a week, 53 weeks of the year. Brilliant. I always knew gardening was a six star hobby (see note ****** below)


    Notes: these always make any scientific study look more credible. Against all the odds, even this one.  

    * this time is divided between tea (75% of the time); coffee (20% of the time); hot Vimto (4% of the time) and water (1% of the time) NB this is ‘working in the garden’ time and not ‘relaxing time’. Even though working in the garden is relaxing - you get my drift.

    ** annoying as it is, proper boots take time to lace and unlace especially when you consider the beverage consumption figures (above) and the proximity of neighbouring gardens, patios and windows overlooking windows preventing the addition of natural compost additives. Drift got again?

    *** this is an average figure and takes into account vigorous arm flapping and aggressive movements towards the bird table whilst still inside the house.

    **** this also includes all other phrases, words and indeed expletives aimed at what must be the toughest weed known to gardeners.

    ***** there's important kit in the shed including my best gardening gloves, stored spuds and antique collection of used plastic pots (all sizes, all offers considered)

    ****** actually, is there any time spent rueing the time and effort spent on deciding on *;  possibly tweaking a back muscle on **; cursing those ***; raising the blood pressure at **** or even wondering why it can’t be like the old days when every door was unlocked and people borrowed cups of sugar when they moved into a new house?

    Nah, there’s only one hobby worth surveying. We’ve got to be gardening every day of the week. 

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  2. Quattro Stagioni

    Quattro Stagioni

    Yep, my garden at the moment could be described as that classic Italian pizza, the quattro stagioni.

    quattro-stagioni-pizzaThere are sections that represent each of the four seasons of the year. But obviously the patio isn’t fringed with a stuffed crust and no one sidles up to me, armed with a badly tuned guitar and a bucket of flaccid, imported flowers, suggesting a ‘rose for the lady’ or enquiring about my need for ‘black pepper?’ or ‘Parmesan?’ Well, not recently and definitely not whilst I’m turning the compost heap.

    A little like the quattro stagioni pizza’s artichokes (spring), tomatoes and basil (summer), mushrooms (autumn) and ham and olives (winter), my garden plants have decided to exhibit a year on a plate. We are tucking into autumn and the garden is all over the place.


    cyclamenAutumn it is and autumn it looks. Ornamental cherries are just about hanging onto their gorgeous autumnal coloured leaves and cyclamen, dainty little hardy cyclamen, are beginning to smother the soil beneath the camellias. It’s a comfort to know the gardening cycle is turning with perfect timing. All the cogs are oiled (extra virgin olive, of course) and running as sweet as a noce.  


    snowdropsHowever, winter isn’t too far away. I have hellebores in full bloom and even, remember it’s early November, snowdrop shoots poking up above the soil surface. Snowdrops aren't supposed to be entertaining me until deepest winter. It’s a variety called ‘Fred’s Giant’ so maybe it has to steal a march on smaller growing types? Whatever it is doing, it feels too early.


    primroseBut if winter isn’t your thing then my primroses will lift your spirits into next spring. Beautiful yellows already popping up all over the place. Usually they carpet parts of the garden in April. Ordinarily. Still, only four months early.



    rosePhew wot a scorcher - summer is still sizzling on. Roses in delicate hues of pink still adorn many rose plants in the garden. Nuzzling up to juicy hips. Pina colada anyone? Penstemons are still budding and the weeds - don’t talk to me about the rate of growth of that lot. Even fresh bindweed shoots are swirling and curling their deathly tendrils in the hedges. Pass the factor 50 will you?


    But I guess the odd plant throws up random flowers occasionally. My dwarf lilac forced out another flush of blooms a couple of weeks ago; a friend’s strawberry plants are in full flower in his garden, in deepest Derbyshire, and my own diascia is blooming away in complete ignorance of the calendar. The strawberries won’t set, the diascia will cop it when the frosts penetrate and the roses will fade to a slimy mush. The snowdrop better had burst forth with enormous blooms as that plant cost a small fortune. Nessuna pressione, my friend. As they say. Somewhere.

    four-seasons

    But the wildlife is spot on. A squirrel is digging and burying wherever he/she can. The robin is tussling with other wild birds when defending the bird table currently groaning under the weight of fresh bird food. There’s way too much for one robin so share it out pal. Pronto. The pigeons are planting themselves on the shed roof with a thud, beadily studying the sprouts and then flapping away with rusty hinged wings. Even the hedgehog poo has disappeared so he/she must be thinking about hibernating. Or is pooing somewhere else.

    garden-animals

    I know that things will calm and plants will stop. The cold weather will arrive (‘worst winter for five years’ being forecast) and autumn will slide into winter which in turn will awaken from its slumber into spring and blossom through to summer. I guess I just need to enjoy the anomalies. Embrace them as I would a free prosciutto-wrapped grissini breadstick or gratuito tiramisu - simply because…well, sometimes life is like that. 

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  3. O Fiona, Fiona! Wherefore art thou, Fiona?

    O Fiona, Fiona! Wherefore art thou, Fiona?

    There comes a time in every gardener’s life when the spade comes out and a bit of digging is the order of the day. Even no-dig gardeners need a spade when constructing a pathway, or extending a current one. And I’m doing just that. 

    concreteUsually whenever doing DIY or GIY, you find the previous owner has bodged the job and done things on the cheap. Not with my garden path. Tonnes, and I mean tonnes (or do I mean tons?) of concrete have been used to haunch in the rope edging. Getting them out has been tortuous. Armed with a spade, lump hammer, bolster and bucket, I set about removing a massive three feet of the stuff. An afternoon of blood, sweat and tears later, I dragged the family out from the cosy confines of the wood-fire warmed lounge to look at my work.

    ‘Well?’

    ‘Er, yes,’ came the reply.

    ‘What do you think?’

    ‘Er, nice?’ was the somewhat guarded and rather disappointingly underwhelmed response.

    Clearly, they missed the point. I had created a clear, uninterrupted run for the new pavers to go down. Now that’s exciting. Surely?

     

    jewel‘But what’s that?’

    ‘What?’ I said.

    ‘That. Shining. On the soil.’ The outside light was burning bright in the gloom of the early autumnal evening. A swirling, cloying mist was developing and condensing on something shiny.

    I scrabbled around, flicked at the soil surface to reveal what could well be the next big thing on BBC Antiques Roadshow.

     


    (I can imagine the scene:

    ‘So Phil, where did you get it?’

    ‘Oh, it was just something I dug up whilst extending a path.’

    ‘And how much is it insured for?’

    ‘Nothing,’

    ‘Well, I can tell you it’s actually worth… … (crowd draws breath in tumescent anticipation) …a million pounds. (Wooos from the crowd. All eyes on me for a reaction) Would you think of selling it?’

    ‘Oh no, it’s part of the family now. I’d better take care of it then.’

    (And then Fiona Bruce fades away, just like in all of my dreams, before I can say ‘what about a selfie me luv?’))

    perfume-stopper

     

    OK, it’s only a bottle stopper. It looks like a perfume bottle stopper - all my perfume bottle stopper experience coming to the fore now - and has the word ‘Carons’ etched in the top. I’ve done my research. Carons is a perfume creator founded in the 1900s. In Paris. France. Ooh la la. Obviously, obviously, my stopper is an original and even though it is devoid of a bottle to stop, is worth a fortune. Do you think?

    rusty-keyBut that isn’t the only item I have uncovered that is surprising. In no particular order, and with no particular photos they are:

    - Shards of a blue pottery - Ming vase perhaps?
    - Old rusty key: to a secret safe still waiting to be discovered?
    - Some cat poop - no cats have lived here for decades. Strange?
    - A badge from a fireman's hat - plastic so not really worth anything. Unless you collect plastic badges from hats in which case please send your bid in an email.
    - Random glass fragments = cut finger. Wear gloves.


    And I am sure you lot have found weirder, stranger, more valuable items when digging your paths, beds, borders, or whatever.

    Let me know and I’ll give Fiona a call. 

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  4. Stickability

    Stickability

    Like discarded chewing gum on a pavement, some plants are hard to get rid of. Whatever you do, however careful you are when cleaning up the dead blooms… they still seem to pop up the following year. Or month, or week, or - in the case of marigolds - the next day. And I’m learning a lot about them.

    calendula-in-cracksmarigold-by-wallFirst of all, marigolds and in particular English marigolds are lovely. Really lovely. With little fuss and nonsense, they grow, flower and attract bees, hoverflies, ladybirds and all the other great insects into the garden. Blooms last all season and when it comes to rating them on a scale of stickability, they are tops. Allow the blooms to set seed and (with so many to deadhead you are bound to miss one or two) they will be deployed to the surrounding area and will grow. This I guarantee. In cracks and crevices in your paving, between bricks in any crumbly walls and, of course, in the soil. A marigold is for life and not just summer. A few quid invested in a pack of seeds will pay you back forever by the bucket load.

    sunflower-above-doorSunflowers are also sticky. I’ve had some pop out of a bag of compost I was using, but I’ve also deliberately grown some. Now they are over, I reckon that the birds, or the squirrel I spotted prancing and dancing around the veg plot the other day, have demolished the seed heads and no doubt will have dispersed a few for me to find next spring. There’s actually a seedling growing now, in autumn, on top of a canopy above my front door. It has rooted into the resident mossy cushions and is doing its best to survive. Not sure it will be a show winner, especially when the colder weather begins, but hats off to its spirit of adventure. Or to the bird that dropped it there.

    I go on about clearing all potatoes from the soil when harvesting. I try. Really, I do but, again, leave one and you just know it will grow. In fact, one of the best ever crops of spuds I grew came from a random potato peeling I threw on the compost heap. Perhaps the blight and bugs didn't spot it growing there. Or they just didn’t expect to see it growing there. Spuds are sticky.

    Same goes for dahlias. The tubers sometimes produce thick fingers that, if left in the soil, will usually regrow. It does put a question mark over all the gardening wisdom surrounding best practice. ‘Lift dahlia tubers, dry off, clean up, store in dry, frost free place before bringing back into life in mid-spring’ can surely be replaced ‘oh just leave ‘em where they grow and forget about them.’ However, I still don’t take any chances with my dahlia-tastic beauties, especially this year.

    But then some plants just don’t hang around.

    It may be different for you but every time I’ve grown chocolate cosmos, and it is now a fair few attempts, plants look great for a few weeks and then, well, they just up sticks and disappear. Lowest of the low on the stickability scale.

    But at least I am guaranteed a blooming great garden next year without actually doing anything. Sunflowers, calendula and dahlias to look at and a nice blob of mash or a crispy roasty. That’s not too bad. 


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  5. Neither Here Nor There

    Neither Here Nor There

    When cooking, I obviously ignore all instructions and guidelines. ‘Heat to 200C for an hour then reduce to 180C for two hours’ kind of instruction translates in my head to ‘max power for three hours’. ‘Iron on a delicate setting’ = ‘nuclear heat’. Dimmer switches? What are they?

    So, when it comes to the seasons I find myself marooned between moods.

    I love summer, when we have one. The heat, the watering, the leaving the greenhouse door open all day and night are all what makes the summer great.

    summer-trio

    And I love autumn. The colours of the leaves, the smell of bonfires, the general tidying up of the garden are all what makes autumn superb.

    autumn-trio

    But the bit between summer and autumn are perfectly defined by the word doldrums. Sure, the nights are drawing in but it isn’t quite dark at teatime. It’s cool in the mornings but the brass monkeys are only just digging about in their wardrobes for scarves and hats. Or, if you are into origins of phrases and words, they may well be looking for some warmer undergarments. Whatever, I don’t see them bedecked and be-clothed in higher tog rated stuff just yet.

    Dahlias are still doing their thing, and have been for weeks, but the bedding is all but over. There is a smell in the air and it isn’t freshly fallen leaves and candyfloss. It’s death and decay of summer. And I don’t like it.

    So, I have a choice. I can hunker down, peering outside from a cold room as it isn’t late enough in the year yet to put the heating on and wait for a few weeks until autumn really kicks in. Or, I can rejoice in this window of opportunity and…plant bulbs.

    phils-bulbsYep, spring flowering bulbs are my saving grace.

    This is the perfect time to plant most bulbs. Do it now and next spring will be ablaze with colour and awash with scent. You can clear away all that vegetation that has gone past its best and plonk in a few wonder-structures of the gardening world. Everything that’s needed to produce a flower is packed into each bulb. Leaves, flower and all the food it needs is sitting there waiting to be activated. Moisture from the soil is that catalyst. But don’t scrape at the surface and drop your big daffs into a shallow indentation. I insist on planting daffs at a depth three times the height of the bulbs. None of this ‘couple of centimetres will do and let's see what happens’ malarkey. Better flowers arise from well planted bulbs. Ditto with crocus, alliums and fritillaries. Later in the year, when autumn has really got its teeth into the calendar, in go your tulips.

    I do love the precise nature of gardening sometimes. And I guess that’s why my cooking is usually burnt; my clothes have a charred appearance; and the house is either plunged into total darkness or lit up like Blackpool illuminations. My flower displays are pretty good though!

    Three to get you through the doldrums:

    • Narcissus Katie Heath: oh, my goodness - what a beauty! Great for pots and borders.
    • Tulip Muvota: totally transfixing. Get it now and plant it later.
    • Ornamental Onion Globemaster: what a whopper!
    bulb-trio


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  6. Sown Alone

    Sown Alone

    Everything in our lives can be divided into my new traffic light system. It’s a simple to follow scheme and one that applies to everything in our lives.

    It goes like this. Green means ‘easy’, amber is ‘great results with a little effort’ and red is ‘high maintenance, lots of input and unpredictable results’.


    red-lightFor example, some cars breakdown incessantly, develop faults overnight, are devils to get started and stop but my, oh, my, how good do they look? That has to be a red.


    green-lightYou may work with someone who, once they get a brief for a project, gets his or her head down and ploughs on, delivering results even when the boss has forgotten about the whole thing in the first place. Green.


    amber-lightWhat about your friends? They may need a shoulder to cry on from time to time, may need to download their current concern over a relationship or even need a cheeky tenner to see them to pay day - but they are there when you need a shoulder, you have something to get off your chest and a few quid would ease things a bit. Amber. Definitely amber. And so it goes with plants.


    I’ve recently harvested some carrots. No great shakes there but the seed, which came from last year’s packet, was sown in a piece of spare soil quite late in the growing season, quietly ignored, at no time netted against carrot fly, never watered and now producing beautifully straight and tasty roots. The best I’ve ever grown. They were sown and left alone. Green. Not the carrots themselves as they are vibrant orange, but definitely Green.




    rosesThen there are my roses. I am beginning to have sleepless nights. They were planted four years ago into intensely prepared soil containing all the pre-requisite ingredients for 100% success. Or so I mistakenly thought. Yes, they have grown; yes, they have flowered; but it’s also a yes to falling victim to every bug and spore doing the rounds. I have fussed with their feed, pampered them with perfect pruning and cosseted them with every available concoction to kill or ward off rust, blackspot, greenfly, blackfly, rather robust and slightly intimidating pinky coloured aphids along with voracious sawfly, leaf cutters and rapacious rollers. Did I mention sudden and unexplained rose dieback? Yep, had that as well. But I will persist with this variety which is most certainly a category Red.


    crocosmiaAmber plants in my own garden are headed up by crocosmia. Sure, they grow like weeds when released into suitable soil, but I expect mine to look great and bloom themselves dizzy whilst growing in large containers. So, the input I need to make is watering during any dry spells. The output is masses of brilliant blooms on long flowering spikes in mid to late summer. It’s a fair trade off. A definite red flowering, green leafed Amber category plant.




    lightsBut thinking about it, maybe everyone's traffic light system is peculiar to them.

    My red may be your green. Your green might be someone else's amber. Their amber could possibly be  - oh, you get the idea. Many people plant a rose and sit back and do nothing. And then watch as the blooms come rolling in. There are also rose varieties that cause no problems whereas other, eg mine, are demons for attracting the bad guys. I may breeze through carrot growing whereas you could be currently sobbing into roots drilled by carrot fly and stunted by stones. No one should ignore crocosmia.

    But just as patiently waiting for all the traffic lights to turn green on a planned journey will only result in permanent inertia, we should take a chance and plant a mix of red, amber and green category plants. It will certainly keep you on your gardening toes. 

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  7. Serendipity

    Serendipity

    serendipity

    /ˌsɛr(ə)nˈdɪpɪti/

    Noun: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

    ‘a fortunate stroke of serendipity’


    serendipity4pic

    Post-It notes, microwave ovens, Sri Lanka and penicillin all have something in common with a weed in my garden. Do you know what it is? Of course you don’t, unless you skulk around near the door to my garage. Just underneath the hanging basket. A weed that was within seconds of being extricated from the block paving has flowered and is a beautiful little viola. Now that, along with the yellow stickies, ting ready meal heaters, a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean and ‘three times a day with food’, is a truly serendipitous find.


    viola

    I guess weeds are simply plants in the wrong place at the wrong time, but this little fella sprung up from nowhere and is a gorgeous purple.

    How can I honestly uproot it when it has gone to all that trouble? The seed was sown by something, it germinated, struggled between the brick paviours, sucked up every meagre drop of water it could, grew leaves and then went to the effort of flowering.

    And that’s an expensive exercise for a plant. I just wish the ones I grew in pots and shower with love and attention were as robust.

    sunflower

    But my serendipity doesn't stop there. Oh no, far from it. After emptying and demolishing an old shed I used the previously opened bags of compost I discovered lurking beneath some garden furniture as a soil improver. I dug their contents in, let the worms do their bit and planted into the resultant healthy soil. Then sunflowers started to pop up. None I sowed - they were in a different part of the garden - but smaller varieties that I allowed to mature into juicy bloomers. Nice. Obviously, the makers of that particular compost used materials with sunflowers nearby. In this case and garden situation, a lovely serendipitous addition.

    Then only a couple of weeks ago one plant in my ever-increasing collection of auriculas pushed up a proper healthy flower spike. Nothing surprising if it was March or April but this one appeared in July. Auriculas always are always beautiful, even when appearing next to my tomatoes, cucumbers and bedding. A definite occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy way.

    Just in case you were feeling warm, cosy and sated with the love of gardening, I have to mention the opposite of serendipity.

    I have discovered that growing aubergines will attract whitefly. And slugs into the greenhouse. I have discovered that growing carrots without any protection will attract carrot fly. I have discovered that major sporting events will always clash with the local village horticultural show and cause heartache as to which one to attend. I have discovered that the word ‘zemblanity’ is often used to express a series of chance events bringing unhappy or non-beneficial results.

    zemblanity

    But who cares about zemblanity and whether it is even a recognised word? Serendipity is the watchword. That little viola is staying. The sunflowers are wowing the local bees and the auricula, lasting only a week, brought a joy to my heart. Plants always do. Except the other weeds in the path. They have to go. Obviously. 

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  8. Operation Garden

    Operation Garden

    There was some kind of documentary on the telly the other night and the narrator referred to the action as being part of ‘Operation Eagle’. Intriguing. Our police force does it as well. ‘Operation Buzzard was highly successful with three being detained for further questioning,’ type of statement being frequently issued to reporters. But for me all this ‘operation’ referencing raises two questions. Firstly, who makes up the names and, secondly, can I be more forensic in my own garden by adopting such nomenclature?

    stakeoutRight - the first question answered. I’m reliably informed that there is a centrally generated list of operation code names for police forces to choose from. The idea is that a force chooses a name that they can mention without letting the target of the operation have a sniff of what's going on. It still has to refer in some way to the exercise. Obviously, I’m not privy to the list but I can imagine the scenario where, say, a police exercise of sitting in a car watching for litter louts can’t be called ‘Operation sitting in a car on the High Street to catch litter louts’. Operation Pick Up would be better. Or maybe not? Anyway, you get gist - if you don’t want others to know what you are doing, call your covert activity by a code name. This obviously applies to the garden.

    I therefore offer up a centrally generated list of operation code names to use and abuse in your garden at the appropriate time and situation. I cannot admit responsibility if the code names have already been used or if they actually get you in trouble with the rest of your gardening companions or otherwise. Here goes:

    snooze

    Operation Demi John: You might use your shed as a quiet retreat from the hectic rush and noise of everyday life in the house. Sometimes a quiet snooze in your favourite fusty armchair or maybe even a slug of something home brewed is the only answer.  So, when it all becomes too much don’t storm out yelling ‘that’s it, I’m off to the shed for a swig and snooze’. Just say ‘Operation Demi John is now actioned.’ Calm will prevail as you walk enigmatically up the garden to your 6x8.

    popcorn

    Operation Halftime: Then imagine the scene where you have been asked to look after your neighbour’s house plants whilst they are away on holiday. This involves a daily check of the plants and admit it, a shifty read of their kitchen noticeboard and a snug settling down in their ‘home cinema surround sound dedicated viewing room’ to watch the Sky channels you don’t receive. Or is that just me?! So, don’t say you are ‘just nipping around to the neighbours to check on the houseplants and read the kitchen noticeboard and settle down on their reclining leather armchair for the big match’. No, this will only get you in trouble with whoever you are telling. And your neighbours. Obviously. ‘Operation Halftime’ is much better - untraceable. Just ensure you hide the popcorn cartons if you prefer films to sport. (‘Operation Dimmer Switch’ might be more appropriate if that is the case).

    compost2Operation NitrogenThere are times when you are at the far corner of your garden and nature calls. Not a cuckoo on the make or owl on the take. Not a rusty-winged pigeon or chirpy cricket. I mean ‘oh no, the house is so far away, my boots are muddy, I’m desperate and if I don’t go now….’ kind of nature call. You have to do what most gardeners do when in that situation. It’s what compost heaps are for. Now, if you admit that to anyone you will have disgust and scorn thrown in your face. Not good. Surely it’s much better to say that ‘Operation Nitrogen’ swung into action?


    I’m sure you already have operation code names in place for your own gardening activities - I’d love to hear and share them. That is of course, if you dare to admit them. 

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  9. A Letter to Summer

    A Letter to Summer

    Dear Summer,

    It is upsetting to have to put my thoughts down in words, but I haven’t see you face-to-face to talk things through. If only.

    1976Over the years you have been a bright light in my life. How things sizzled in 76 when you were all I thought of. Did we really fry eggs on the pavement? Did railway lines really buckle? How we enjoyed drinking those reservoirs dry. Stand by those pipes boys and girls. Did Tizer really taste that good? Happy days. But now. Where has it all gone? I cannot live on memories alone. Sadly, the photographs are fading.

    playaIt breaks my heart to say that this year has been one of the dullest times I’ve ever known with you. There, I’ve said it. Where have you been? I know there’s talk of a ‘jetstream’ and other such nonsense turning your head but all I know for a fact is that you haven’t been around to warm things up. Another fact - I know you have been seen in Europe. Don’t deny it. I’ve seen the pictures. Did the Brexit vote upset you so much that you sought solace in the already overly sun-kissed coasts of Costas Brava, Dorada and Sol leaving me with a rushed trip beneath leaden skies to the other Costa for a warming latte and perk-me-up granola bar? Why devote all your energy over there when I, in fact we, need you here? So many questions and so little in the way of answers.

    calendarThe frustrating, really frustrating part of our relationship is that when you do appear, things look up. But just three consecutive days in a month. Three days. That’s it - three whole days. Is that all we are worth to you and after all we’ve done. As you are well aware, one swallow doesn’t make a summer. Trust me - neither does three days. Ambassador, you do not spoil us.

    I need you around more but let's be brutally honest, time is running out. Actually, I cannot live the lie any more, time has run out. The lawn is wet with my dewy tears every morning and the evening mood darkens around 8.15pm. And trust me, that mood is worsening. Soon the trees will send out their sympathy cards and will mourn your passing with their best efforts to brighten my days. But there’s only so much wood smoke, degenerated chlorophyll and Trick or Treating I can take.

    I guess that now my Daz blue legs shrouded in voluminous shorts replete with razor sharp creases will not be seen. I won’t say forever because, well, here’s what I am proposing.

    Let's take it easy and relaxed with you popping along in the next few weeks and see what we make of things. Just a temporary arrangement you understand. Then take a break. A full break. I guess we both need time to think things through and get over this disaster. And then let’s regroup next June and see if things have changed. What do you think? We would all be happy to see you with your hat on in the next few weeks. Hip-hip-hip-hooray. It’ll remind us of what we are missing. Or sadly, have missed.  

    Sounds like a plan?

    As ever, always here for you should you decide to turn up. If I’m not in, I’ll be in the shed checking the horticultural fleece, greenhouse thermometer and heater. The key is in the usual place. There’s fresh milk in the fridge. And don’t upset the dog.  

    THE UK.

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  10. Guilty? Your Honour

    Guilty? Your Honour

    You’d expect that a peaceful stroll around an open garden to be just that - placid, tranquil and relaxing. Well, it was - until I spotted something, or to be more precise, someone pilfering. Let me explain.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now just in case you missed it… I like visiting other people's gardens for a horticultural rummage and generally eat cake, drink tea and chat gardening. The simple things in life keep me happy. So, as I was idly meandering around a lovey 2 acre garden crammed with luscious herbaceous plants, having just been satisfied by a noggin of moist lemon drizzle cake and a top class brew, I was somewhat bemused by the sight of a fellow visitor taking cuttings from a penstemon.

    ‘Afternoon,’ I said.
    ‘Afternoon,’ came the reply.
    ‘Nice garden?’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘Your garden?’ I probed (Sherlock Holmes has nothing on me).
    ‘No.’
    Taking cuttings?
    ‘Yes.’

    Ok, it wasn’t the most riveting of conversations but I gleaned the information I needed. I had discounted that the perpetrator of this villainous act was the owner taking casual cuttings. A-ha, I thought, I had found a thief!

    Our colloquy continued until my patience ran out. ‘But it’s wrong. It’s stealing. You shouldn't do it’. Then came an astonishing reply:

    ‘But they have plenty of plants and won’t miss a few cuttings.’

    ‘Plenty’, ‘won’t miss.’ Oh, come on. Maybe she (for she was a she) is a regular visitor to the British Library to half inch a book or two. After all, they have 150 million items accessible. Or perhaps it's more a case of ‘Hello BMW showroom person, you have plenty of cars on display. I’m driving one away. Why? Well, you won't miss one and because I can.’ Actually, it isn’t like that. She wasn’t lifting the whole plant, rootball intact, wrapping it in hessian and transporting it home to her own garden to plant at the same level and adding plenty of water to get the roots established. No, this was akin to going to the British Library and ripping a page from a book or whipping off a wiper blade from a gleaming BMW (other cars and car parts are available). Obviously, all of it is wrong.

    We talked some more and as we ‘chatted’ (yes, no, perhaps, never, purple, sometimes, flapjack, and Renault  were among her one word replies to my intensive questioning), she slowly put down her pruning knife, plastic bags and clear water filled hand sprayer. I thought I’d talked her around. I’d allowed her to look deep inside her conscience and see the error of her ways. She’d seen the light and all that kind of caper.

    ‘Leave me alone. I like penstemons.’

    So, I did. I could do no more. I waltzed off to the next garden on the list. But obviously not before dobbing her in to the owner, who was last spotted striding forcefully over his perfectly manicured lawn to his prized penstemons and the still crouching form of public enemy number one - the crooked cuttings criminal.

    Or perhaps I am in the minority when it comes to taking cuttings from other people's gardens without their permission? Please let me know (anonymity is guaranteed).

    No more questions m’lud.


    You’ve just read the one word answers to previously unpublished questions. I say previously because here they are in order of cross examination:  

    • You from around here? (trying to find out an address – clever, eh?)
    • Been to the other gardens on the list? (any previous?)
    • Spent long in this garden? (establishing time of entry for CCTV footage)
    • Been caught red handed before? (strong questioning, I know, but a little bit of pressure makes them crack)
    • What colour is the penstemon? (OK, it’s a bit of a gardening question to establish why it wasn’t flowering and its variety. I suspect incorrect pruning)
    • Do you add mycorrhizal fungi when you pot up cuttings? (how experienced is this thief?)
    • Bakewell tart or flapjack? (just in case I was to get another chance at the cake stall - a recommendation is a quality piece of intelligence)
    • Name a make of car (subtle way of identifying the getaway vehicle) 
    Read more »
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