Cutting remarks over the hedge from the undisputed queen of the garden
NEITHER a borrower nor a lender be. The Bible? Shakespeare? The quotation must presumably be one or the other. On the face of it, gardening is not much about borrowing or lending at all. There is simply no point in lending someone a plant which will be anchored in the ground forever and ever amen.
It will never be returned by the borrower – that is the long and the short of it. Better by far to make a gift of the begonia which has been admired by a guest and then feel good about brightening someone else’s flower bed.
While borrowing is impracticable and rare, stealing is rife – though horticultural theft is the most genteel form of larceny imaginable. Little old dears are the worst culprits, as deadly as a plague of locusts while maintaining their air of unruffled innocence. Beware of pensioners idly poking in your borders for they are not as harmless as they would have you believe.
These saintly-faced wreckers descend on the perennials of their unfortunate victims with blades concealed in their oh-so-respectable looking handbags. As single-minded in their criminal intent as any mediaeval cut-purse or inner city mugger, they can snip cuttings with all the underhand dexterity of a professional magician. And on the rare occasion when their offences are detected, they are simply too damned nice and ladylike to be challenged.
The custom among talented gardeners to open their premises to all and sundry as a fund-raiser for some good cause is impossibly nerve-wracking for the hosts.
They must worry whether the weather will allow them to display their roses at their best. They must worry too as to whether there will be sufficient deck-chairs, orange squash and parking spaces to accommodate all comers. But above all they must toss and turn each night at the nightmarish prospect of a horde of grannies arriving all armed on the sly with nail scissors or secateurs. Let this gang loose unsupervised in your precious grounds and a prize winning garden may be reduced to a wasteland in the space of one leisurely afternoon of polite conversation and curranty scones…
Her Majesty, the mother-in-law, paid one of her rare State visits to The Manor recently dispensing the benefit of her enormous expertise. What this woman does not know about flora is scarcely worth knowing, so it pays to listen to her every word.
‘You are overwatering that.’ Yes, ma’am.
‘Keep that potted. It won’t stand planting out yet.’ Yes ma’am. ‘This needs feeding.’ ‘That needs starving.’ ‘Ugh! I diagnose vine weevil.’ Yes ma’am. Yes ma’am. Yes indeed, ma’am.
It was not until we came to the hedge that I felt I could do any more than nod and take a long list of mental notes as the royal party inspected the Side Garden. The hedge is this summer’s pride and joy. The hedge is one of the wonders of the world as far as I am concerned. Now that the hedge has reached the stage where it can stand a good clipping, I am happy to boast of how I have raised it to such magnificence.
Her Majesty looked at me with bemused indulgence as I droned on about the watchfulness required to produce a hedge of such all-round awesomeness. Eventually, she was allowed few words.
‘You don’t by any chance remember where you acquired the makings of this miraculous hedge, do you, dear boy?’
‘I gave you the cuttings from my own hedge, dear boy.’ And so she did. I now recalled bringing those precious little slips from the imperial residence to The Manor wrapped in damp newspaper. I probably never said thank you. I now expressed belated gratitude and we pondered together how many of our botanical treasures are presents donated by other like-minded souls.
Hermione and I have cultivated a row of grape plants, for instance, all from the vineyard of a friend. They have taken such firm root that we are now happily in a position to offer vine cuttings to anyone who shows and interest in cultivating them. Our willow grove is the result of January morning raids taking sallies from the groves of others.
It is all about sharing and never mind borrowing or lending.