End the feud­ing to save the Lan­caster; pay­ing trib­ute to the canal­side gar­den­ers

Canal Boat - - This Month - KEVIN BLICK From car journalism to the canals was a change of pace, but liv­ing on board tug Harry is a con­stant eye-opener

‘Over the years – and the canals – we’ve come up with a few cat­e­gories. The most ob­vi­ous is what we’ve chris­tened the bun­ga­low gar­den’

Ev­ery time I see a jar of one of Loyd Gros­mann’s sauces on a su­per­mar­ket shelf I can’t help but re­call his lugubri­ous mid-At­lantic ac­cent as he peered into celebrity homes on TV’s

Through the Key­hole and got a glimpse of the dif­fer­ent lifestyles they en­joyed.

Tug Harry lets us en­joy our own view through­out the key­holes of the na­tion’s homes and fan­ta­sise about the peo­ple who lives in them.

The key­holes I’m talk­ing about are the canal and river­side gar­dens we pass by.

I’m no gar­dener but I’m fas­ci­nated by other peo­ple’s gar­dens. They are so, so dif­fer­ent: pass a street full of back gar­dens and you’ll see that scarcely two are sim­i­lar. There’s ev­ery­thing from crisp, mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion to unloved ram­shackle to some­thing that’s clearly the prod­uct of mind-ex­pand­ing drugs.

Over the years – and the canals – we’ve come up with a few cat­e­gories. The most ob­vi­ous is what we’ve chris­tened the bun­ga­low gar­den. It doesn’t have to be ap­pended to a bun­ga­low but it usu­ally is.

The defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic is that the lawn, of which there is usu­ally a lot, is mown shorter than a US ma­rine’s buzz-cut, fed with as many nu­tri­ents as a weightlifter takes steroids and kept free of weeds by enor­mous quan­ti­ties of Ver­done Ex­tra, un­til the soil is as bar­ren as Fukushima’s ex­clu­sion zone. No plant lives in this gar­den un­less it has a per­mit. Per­haps a few stat­uesque shrubs, trimmed into dis­ci­plined shapes; maybe a straight line or two of gera­ni­ums. That’s it.

This sort of gar­den usu­ally views the canal merely as some­where to throw grass clip­pings; the chairs in the uPVC con­ser­va­tory rarely face the wa­ter.

Puz­zlingly, a sur­pris­ing mi­nor­ity of gar­dens do turn this Nel­son-like blind eye to the cut. “We bought a house by the canal but don’t want peo­ple to see us so we’ve planted 10ft ley­landii.” Er, but now you can’t see the canal your­selves? Hmm.

The ma­jor­ity, though, em­brace their wa­ter­way with var­i­ous types of canal­side deck­ing that range from the dan­ger­ously per­ilous to the ex­otic.

A lot of this last cat­e­gory were clearly devo­tees of

Ground Force to judge by the cu­ri­ous ab­stract lumps of stone and arty gravel and wood on which sits ex­pen­sive-look­ing out­door fur­ni­ture.

The small­est wa­ter­fronts of­ten have the most elab­o­rate set-ups, I find.

Most are some­where be­tween the ex­tremes; in­ge­nious con­coc­tions of one, two and even three lev­els stand­ing on some­times du­bi­ous posts or, in the case of one I re­call, a clever foun­da­tion of used tyres.

Not ev­ery canal­side is con­ducive to gar­den­ing – some house­hold­ers de­serve medals for cre­at­ing gar­dens on ver­tig­i­nous slopes that look barely ac­ces­si­ble ex­cept with moun­taineer­ing ropes.

Most of all, I love the truly ec­cen­tric back gar­dens. The canal­side gnome col­lec­tion near Tamworth, al­ways a favourite of our young grand-daugh­ter; the roll-top bath with a side cut out to be­come a seat, the life-size go­rilla and al­li­ga­tor guard­ing a deck on the Mac­cles­field. The man who has made a pre­tend Gatso to en­cour­age speed­ing boaters to slow down.

But I don’t ap­pre­ci­ate the ones who al­low their weep­ing wil­lows to grow huge and untrimmed un­til their branches fill the cut.

Most of all, I just en­joy the care and at­ten­tion that so many canal­side home own­ers have lav­ished on their gar­dens – some of their finest work only to be seen at its best, I think, by pass­ing boaters such as our­selves.

A heart­felt thanks very much to all of you.

What a gar­den – good ef­fort...

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