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Pardon My Garden

By Steve Andrews

We had the garden open to the public. Well, they're not really the public, of course. They are a series of Titchmarshes and Dimmocks and they certainly know their tilth from their humus.

Being gardening people, though, they spray courtesy around as if it were a whitefly zonker. One - nice man - took a look at something I had thought was a pink weed and said, "that's a brave place to put a grandiloquens streptococci", or whatever. Brave? What he meant was "staggeringly inept". "It is going to die", was the dark message in his clear gardener's eyes.

Then they catch sight of the clover in your lawn - and avert their eyes - furtively. It's like members of a close-knit family when one of them has a nasty but avoidable disease. Lots of unspoken sympathy but still the feeling that, "you brought this on yourself, you know." Decent people, prepared to forgive, yearning to make a fresh start. But the whiff of moral contagion is in the air.

The potential for soul-piercing embarrassment is huge. "Ooo, is that a Dorothy Perkins?" said one woman, cavorting over to a bed that contained all manner of mystery growth. "Er, no, I think it's a rose", trembled on my lips but, thanks be, got no further. What would she have thought? That I couldn't tell the difference between a flower and a purveyor of female clothing? Yes, quite probably. When they have you marked down as the kind of buffoon who prunes rhubarb, they'll believe anything. Anything.

There's only one safe line. When they see something that is clearly gasping its last under terminal infestation, they ask - with the diffidence of genuine good manners - "what are you treating this with?" To which you reply - civilly but with just a tang of disapproval - "I don't believe in too many chemicals". They will all nod. And you do the same. Sagely.