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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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I love my garden. It’s like another room in the pub

They say you’ve to reach a certain age before you can take a genuine interest in gardening – beyond reading Alan Titchmarsh’s fantasy fiction, anyway.

“I was 35 before I cared about gardens at all,” a colleague confided this week, in a rainstorm. The one that started a lifetime ago and never stopped.

“Now I find I really do worry for my wisteria.”

He was looking heavenward, his feet in a puddle, fingers discreetly wiping away the running water finding a discomforting channel between his neck and shirt collar.

To be truthful, he did look disconcertingly troubled. It might have been that his glasses were steaming up. But more likely he was starting to develop hysteria for his wisteria. And who could blame him in this flaming, drenching June?

I knew what he meant. I’m not what you’d call green-fingered by any stretch. Though I do have a blue thumb.

So badly stained is it with Miracle-Gro, I’m fully expecting it to be three times the size of the other one within a fortnight.

“I fear the worst for my geraniums and senetti,” I told him. “Very bedraggled. They’re crying out for sunshine. But then, aren’t we all?”

I chose not to mention I’d been considerably older than 35 when the gardening bug took hold. So far as I’m concerned, I remain no older than 35. Only when pressed in a waterboarding situation, while chained to a radiator, will I confess to 37. It has been that way for a number of years now. The number is my secret and I’m keeping it that way.

But it’s true that once bitten, anyone would be as hard-pressed to rub away stinging obsession as they would be to erase blue-thumb. The garden becomes another room – when it’s not raining. You’d no more neglect it than you would trash any other room – with wet towels on the bathroom floor or pizza boxes on the sofa.

We’ve skipped a season. And it’s depressing. Spring has moved on to an overbearingly muggy autumn, without so much as a by your leave. Gardens, battered and beleaguered, show their confusion.

“Oo, look there – you’ve got a Union Flag in the flower bed!” My dad’s easily pleased but no one could call him unobservant. And when he and Mum visited Brampton for their hols, he missed nothing.

I couldn’t say I’d noticed any flag. But there might well have been a reason for that.

Following his pointing finger, there it was. Unmistakably, unavoidably flag-like. All planted out with meticulous precision and blooming beautifully outside St Martin’s Church – red salvia, blue lobelia and white something-or-other – proud as you like. Celebratory in fact.

And for once nobody could argue angrily about it being upside down – at least not without being told to walk round to the other side. Perfect. How had I not seen it?

The answer fell into place almost immediately. The flag had clearly been planted lovingly and with precision timing to flower just in time for Jubilee weekend. Then Nature did her worst, blotted out the sun and prevented its vibrancy from blossoming to full effect... until two weeks later.

Now we look, not so much like a festive little population of joyous party-people but more like an outpost of nationalist extremists. And in this miserable, sloth-inducing weather, who could be bothered with any of that?

The folks have gone home to Yorkshire now. They had the best of the sunshine, in a week that started with three or four days of sightseeing and drinks in the garden and ended with a long rainy afternoon in the pub.

By law of June averages, not bad really.

Inspired, I suspect, by Brampton’s floral flag, my dad has renewed his attention to domestic gardening matters. I know that because Mum told me, when I called.

“Your dad can’t come to the phone now,” she said. “He’s out deflowering.”

“You mean deadheading, Mum.”

She always gets it wrong.

“Do I? Well, whatever.”

Or maybe she didn’t. Maybe he had been wildly inspired by the special powers of a rejuvenating visit to Cumbria and the virgins of West Yorkshire had all been put on red alert.

In which case, I’d be seriously worried.

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