There’s a few things that professional gardeners do that really make me see red, but my absolute bête noire is what some of them call ‘landscape gardening’.

From time to time I am called in by someone who finds their garden nothing but a nuisance. Generally they have brought a house in leafy, green West Wickham and so acquired a garden by accident. They take me out of the backdoor and we stare sadly at the overgrown shrubs and weed infested lawn. The other day I stood with a young man looking at his unkempt garden, across a bed of roses struggling to force their buds up, through a tangle of brambles and weeds. Although it was almost dusk he still had his suit and tie on, because he worked such long hours in the city.
“How much to cut it all down?” he asked, waving his arm across the garden, like a scythe.
I tried to explain that, left alone, the Buddleia would be a mass of flowers by the end of the month. Walking to the Rose bed across the Moss and Dandelions, I gently lifted a bunch of half opened buds; the petals were a beautiful violet colour, deep yet soft. I remarked on what good quality the roses were, particularly considering they were half smothered by weeds. Under the tangle was an old trowel stuck in the ground, the handle rotten. I tried to suggest that, once I had got some of the heavier work out the way, he, or his equally overworked wife, might find gardening relaxing, even enjoyable.
It was no go.
“Cut it all down,” he repeated, turning back indoors, sniffing the air and looking anxiously towards the kitchen.
With a heavy heart I gave a price. The main reason was that I feared if I did not he would call in a landscape gardener, of the kind that specialises in problems like his; their solution is invariably to reduce the size of the garden with stone patios, concrete paths and acres of decking. Sometimes they add an indestructible plant in a large pot, as a sort of memorial to the garden that’s disappeared under the concrete.
But would anyone forgo the comfort of the scruffiest lawn, on a hot day and choose instead to be baked on a strip of concrete? The most neglected shrubs have movement and life, contrasting shades of green, patches of dappled light and shadow, that divert and relax us. Does anyone went to exile birds, bees and other insects to enjoy an uninterrupted view of a bright blue strip of decking and the back of their neighbour’s garage?
No garden is ever perfect; the Weigela that flowered so beautifully last year, turns into a tangled flowerless mess for no earthly reason and, the minute your back is turned, a family of Plantains colonise a corner of the lawn. One of my neighbours, whose neat, blossom packed garden makes us all green with envy, sees nothing in it herself, but failure and tasks she should have been done yesterday. Perhaps there’s a valuable lesson in accepting that we can’t reach perfection. Take a rest. Enjoy what you have. Perhaps get out a garden chair and enjoy the scents and sights, as the shadows lengthen over your garden, with a nice cup of tea, or a gin and tonic; there’s always tomorrow.
Above all don’t fall into the hands of the concrete and decking merchants. I can maintain your garden, so that you can still experience the wonderful benefits of nature and fresh air, and each visit will cost you about what they charge for a couple of York stone slabs.
On my last visit to the young man’s overgrown garden I described, I had a surprise. On a previous visit, rather than cut the roses down, I had carefully cleared away the weeds and brambles and produced the fragrant blooms from nowhere, like a conjuring trick. Now standing beside them were several trays of Begonias and Fuchsias. I think someone may be taking-up gardening.


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