Give me a piccolo full of parsley any day

People don't want boring things like flowerbeds or lawns; they want decking, paving and focal planting

LIKE 90 per cent of the nation this bank holiday weekend, I shall go to my nearest garden centre, stare thoughtfully at a lot of anonymous plants, sit wistfully on a lot of extremely expensive patio furniture and emerge two hours later with a couple of busy Lizzies and a small cappuccino.

Yes, of course they sell cappuccinos in garden centres - why wouldn't they? Garden centres are part of the leisure industry and where there's leisure there are refreshments and play areas and toilets and enormous, Tarmac-covered car parks. In the old days on bank holiday weekends your average urban family piled into the Ford Cortina and drove out to Box Hill or the Ribble valley for a picnic. Now they shove Granny, kids, bicycles and dogs into the back of the Range Rover and spend a day at superstores with names like Plants`R'Us or Greenfingers because they have everything that the countryside has (albeit in pots), except that they're easier to manage, with flies and no mud - and, above all, you can buy things.

The most impressive garden centre I ever went to was somewhere in the Midlands. It was called Grow Man Grow. It consisted of four vast greenhouses not much smaller than Heathrow terminals, only one of which in fact contained plants. The first was full of furniture and barbecue equipment, the second had ornamental statuary, ceramic pots and trellises and a third was the cafe and gift shop. There weren't many people in the last, nor, now I come to think of it, many plants. They were mainly busy Lizzies and roses named after Blue Peter presenters.

This, I am reliably informed by a friend who landscapes gardens, is increasingly the way things are going. People don't want boring things like lawns that have to be mown or flowerbeds that have to be weeded. They want decking and paving and lots of furniture and something called focal planting, which means judiciously placed tubs and troughs of flowers that only need watering.

We're lucky. Living in a rented eyrie in London encouraged us 20 years ago to buy a ramshackle cottage near Petworth for what you'd fork out nowadays for a sit-on lawnmower.

Over the years I have tried half-heartedly to plant lavender and rhubarb, but it hasn't worked. Wrong sort of soil, my neighbour said. The grass grew waist-high, the children's favourite game was jungles. All this changed when we built a granny annexe and my green-fingered mother came to stay.

She cast a disapproving eye at the jungle, shrivelled lavender and dead rhubarb. All she needed, she told us, was a chunkle. A what? A chunkle is an agricultural implement used for centuries by rural communities in upper Burma, whence my mother hails. It's a cross between a pickaxe and a spade; needless to say not a single garden centre within 50 miles of genteel Petworth had heard of it.

"Wouldn't you rather have a nice long-handled hoe?" they said. No, it had to be a chunkle. I forget where we eventually tracked one down but within a week of its arrival our cottage garden had been comprehensively chunkled and was ready to throw open to the paying public. Watching my mother in a straw hat stabbing viciously at brambles and nettles, a Petworth neighbour whispered with awe that it reminded her of a scene from The Killing Fields.

This year I'm determined to plant a herb garden. I've seen them in the shape of wheels or laid out like mosaic but the best, the most ingenious, was my friend's over in Battersea; she grew her herbs inside my old piano. It's a long story. Someone had offered me a rather better piano than my existing one. My Battersea friend said she'd take the old one and put it in the basement for her children. Unfortunately it wouldn't go down the basement steps. Undaunted, my friend, who isn't musical, persuaded the removal men to carry it into the garden and rip out all its moving parts. She then filled the empty frame with soil and planted it with herbs - tall chives, rosemary and oregano at the back, small creeping ones like sage, thyme and flat-leafed parsley at the front.

It was a huge success. Design-conscious people came from as far away as Colliers Wood and Ealing to see the sprouting piano. It was photographed endlessly and featured in design magazines. Once it was even filmed for a television series about style. The producer wanted my friend to plant out an entire orchestra - canna lillies in trumpets, forget-me-nots in clarinets, and what about ferns in a double bass? It certainly opens a whole new horticultural world for the garden centres to fill. Give me a piccolo full of parsley rather than one of your reconstituted concrete Venus-de-Milo lookalikes any day.

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015