inside ...and out

RHODODENDRONS have had a bad press ever since Vita Sackville-West condemned them as "bedint" (bourgeois). , she announced, would never be planted at Sissinghurst because they resembled "fat stockbrokers, whom we do not want to have to dinner". She was also no fan of azaleas, the rhododendron's close cousin; these she dismissed as "Ascot, Sunningdale sort of plants". Hoity-toity!

It's true that a huge scarlet rhododendron or azalea (or azaleodendron, their hybrid) can be a mite overpowering for a tiny patio. But in a big country garden (Exbury in Hampshire, for example, which is open to the public) they can look fantastic en masse. And there are dozens of small, subtly shaded varieties that are perfectly well-behaved and pretty. One to avoid, however, is the standard mauve with dull leathery leaves, commonly used as a hedge in parks. Much too common, frightfully "bedint".


Heavy-duty machinery

MOWING the lawn is a boring, back-breaking task - until the option of a sit-on mower comes up. Puttering around atop a big piece of throbbing machinery suddenly turns it into a fun job which everyone fights over. Similarly, raking leaves is a pain, until one of those contraptions like an enormous vacuum cleaner enters the picture. Slinging the bag over your shoulder and zapping the windfalls with an enormous nozzle is more like a game than a chore (though, from a distance, it seems as though one is Hoovering the garden, which looks pretty strange to passers-by).

A pair of shears and a spade look ridiculously weedy next to a racy power scythe, which makes short work of grass, brambles, bracken, reeds, saplings or gorse. Those with a patio that can be maintained using a pair of nail scissors and a teaspoon can only look on jealously. A massive array of heavy-duty hardware that you can sit on, drive or plug in suggests a truly serious gardener, a macho tiller of the soil - why, barely one step down from a farmer! (In your dreams.)

Power scythe from Tracmaster, Teknol House, Victoria Road, Burgess Hill, West Sussex RH15 9LH, 01444 247689. Free demonstrations available.