In search of the hunter-gatherer-weeder-pruner within

We now think that gardening goes all the way back to our nomad forefathers

GARDENERS ARE getting everywhere these days. Always on TV. Always writing books about tulips. Even writing novels about Mr McGregor. Gardening is the new cooking, someone said the other day. But today's column on "What to do in the garden in May" is different.

It's not written by a gardener at all.

Gardeners are being allowed nowhere near it.

No - today's garden feature has been written by a chartered accountant, a historian, a poet, a psychologist, a...

But you'll get the idea as we go along. Right, here we go then with our new-style "What to do in the garden in May"...

Hello, there! writes our fashion expert, Imogen Cascara. And the good news is that pinks, yellows and blues are all back in again! Yes, brown and black have been the dominant colours during the winter, and very stylish they have been too, but the word coming out of the great garden fashion houses (Bisley, Givenchy, etc) is that brown is at last disgustingly passe and it's all right to splash out on irises, lupins, delphiniums and the good old-fashioned look! So let's go mad in the garden this summer!

"Let's go mad in the garden this summer," writes Dr Vernon Haslet, our consultant psychologist, is not the sort of advice I, as a psychologist, like to hear people being given. For one thing, we psychologists don't like to use the word "mad" any more. We prefer to say "barking" or "off his trolley". For another thing, gardens are the last place you will find madness. Gardens are a truly soothing and calming place - unless, of course, you are doing the gardening! Even then we have to be careful to distinguish between people who do their own gardening, and professional gardeners who, surveys now show, tend to be more restful and serene than owner-gardeners, and perhaps have been since records began...

Since records began there have been accounts of humans loving to garden, writes Norman Gissing, our gardening historian, and we now think that gardening goes back way beyond that to our nomad forefathers. Hunter-gatherers, we conventionally call them. Perhaps hunter-gatherer-weeder-pruner-trimmers might be nearer the mark, as we now have ample evidence that herbs were grown round the entrance to many a primeval cave, and that while the men were busy indoors putting up cave paintings, the women were tending the cave garden. Direct evidence is thin on the ground...

Direct evidence is thin on the ground, writes archaeologist Ralph Kibbins, but under the ground is quite another matter. Even in the meanest suburban garden a fascinating treasure trove of objects is waiting to be dug up, so my advice would be to give all those flowers the old heave-ho, and turn your garden into an archaeological dig. Bones, pottery, metal remains, old brass lamps waiting to be given a rub - who knows what is waiting to greet you from another age? And, of course, nobody goes into archaeology to make a profit, but there may be money in it too...

There may be money in it too, agrees Samuel Penfold, our property specialist, especially if you have the sort of garden that could easily be built upon. Of course, it's perfectly possible that you don't want to have executive- style houses in your garden. Then here's another idea! Americans are always mad keen to own a little bit of old England, and there are always some of them keen enough - and mad enough - to buy a plot one metre square which they can call their own! Does selling your garden to Americans in one-metre plots strike you as a crazy idea? You won't think so when the dirty deed is done, and the shekels are counted in...!

When the dirty deed is done

And the shekels counted in

writes our resident poet, Hamish Chatterling

You can sit there in the sun

Sipping at your evening gin!

Gardens are not all hard graft,

Hoein', diggin', weedin',

Even Adam sang and laughed

After hours in Eden...

The birds prefer to sing

all day,

All flowers are born lazy.

If I weren't me, well,

then OK

- I'd rather be a daisy.

So fill your mind with poetry

And many a flowery notion.

One day, with luck, you may become

Another Andrew Motion.

To be continued some other time

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