Once again, top of the pile is Elizabeth MacGregor's catalogue of violas and cottage garden plants. Her violas arrive in superb condition, fat, bouncing plants that transplant without whimpering and get into flowering mode in an incredibly short time. For a catalogue, send four first-class stamps to her at Ellenbank, Tongland Road, Kirkcudbright, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland DG6 4UU (01557 330620). From Suffolk Herbs, I need `Cilantro' coriander, the best variety for leaves rather than seeds. I also need `Carouby de Maussanne', an excellent mangetout pea, and some `Grumolo Verde' chicory. Send pounds 1 for a catalogue from Monks Farm, Coggeshall Road, Kelvedon, Essex CO5 9PG (01376 572456). Indoor flowering streptocarpus seem to be building up on our window ledges. They have been flowering since late spring and are only just coming to an end now. The flowers are shaped like foxglove trumpets; the colours range from white through to a deep inky blue, which is my favourite. Now I want a new one, the white-flowered `Albatross' which is available from Dibley's Nurseries at Llanelidan, Ruthin, Clwyd LL15 2LG (01978 790677). Send a large sae for a catalogue. Plants will be sent out in March.
OUR WEATHERVANE was a present from my father-in-law, an expression of his relief that, after 12 years or so working on the house, we had finally got a dryish roof over our heads. It was the finishing touch to the gable roof. Weathervanes in a wide choice of designs are made in Hertfordshire by Webbs. They don't just do dog; they do Border terrier, greyhound, whippet, Labrador, dachshund and a host of other breeds. I am intrigued by their pricing structure. Why should a Weimarana (band C, pounds 89.50) be so much cheaper than a springer spaniel (band G, pounds 142.50)? They also do ravens, curlews, cats in various poses, sheep, horses, the traditional cockerel and a design called Fergie. It's not the D of Y (though she'd make a good windvane) but everyone's favourite tractor. Prices for medium weathervanes measuring 21in from west to east range from pounds 84.50 to pounds 152. Webb's catalogue is available from Unit 5, Fen End Industrial Estate, Fen End, Stotfold, Hitchin, Herts SG5 4BA (01462 734006).
"I AM scratching out upon Paper ten thousand Designs for... parts of the Garden & my plans commonly come to the same Fate... they are flung into the Fire and forgot," wrote the owner of Marston in Somerset in 1733. Garden history generally concentrates on the plans that worked. In his engaging book, Polite Landscapes (Alan Sutton, pounds 18.99), Tom Williamson goes beyond the great showpieces of William Kent and "Capability" Brown to expose the wider social, economic and political implications of the 18th-century landscape.
He emphasises how practical was the relationship between client and designer. Land could not be disposed by aesthetic principles alone. Landowners had farms to run, forests to manage; the livelihoods of thousands of agricultural workers depended on these enterprises remaining profitable. As for the designers, they, too, had to be businessmen as well as artists. Repton, a great 18th-century landscape designer, wrote despairingly of the "time and contrivance wasted to produce plans although highly approved, yet from vanity, from indecision, or from the fickleness of human nature, not infrequently thrown aside." Williamson's grasp of detail brings that distant period brilliantly alive.
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