"If you install a new kitchen," says Lal Tawney, of the loan department, "in five or 10 years' time that investment may have depreciated, but a well-planned garden just gets better and better as it grows." That's true, although I would resent feeling that a patio (estimate pounds 400-pounds 1,000, says the Abbey National) a pergola (pounds 700) or any other part of the garden, was in hock in that way. According to their research, a full-blown garden makeover will cost at least 5 per cent and up to 10 per cent of the value of the house. Good grief.
A Russian horticultural magazine, the Priusadebnoe Khozyaistvo, recently got in touch wanting to reprint a piece I'd written on growing vegetables. I would have supposed that conditions would be too fierce there for gardeners to grow the same things as we do. I was wrong. Their latest issue includes a piece by one of the deputies of the Duma, or state parliament, about growing mushrooms and other vegetables on his smallholding. There's an article about cucumber hybrids, and another on growing chilli peppers. That's followed by advice about raising potatoes in Siberia, and the problems of bean weevil. Ads are mostly from readers wanting to exchange seeds and plants, and other readers send in recipes for pickled garlic and tips about freezing cabbage. It's not all about gardening to eat, though that takes up more than half the space in the magazine. At the end is a section labelled Na Usadbe which includes flowers along with DIY. Here you can learn how to make mouse and rat traps, turn your garden into a capitalist, profit-making enterprise and catch up on ways to cover your roses in winter.
The Garden Lovers Cookbook was put together by Sue Reid of Nether Affloch Farmhouse, Dunecht, Skene, Aberdeenshire AB32 7BP, to raise extra money for the charities supported by Scotland's Gardens Scheme. Mrs Reid, who opens her own garden regularly for the scheme, asked other garden owners and friends to contribute favourite recipes and the result is a wonderfully random 32-page melange. You can try John Major's tuna mousse (yes, that John Major), or Mrs Gordon of Esslemont's mushroom baskets, or Beth Chatto's green-and-white winter vegetable soup. Tony Blair's contribution is carrot and sweet potato soup. He wasn't PM when he sent in the recipe. Would it have made a difference? For a copy of the cookbook send pounds 4 (that includes postage and packing) to Sue Reid at the above address.
Which Christmas tree? The question used not to exist. You had Norway spruce, Picea abies, or nothing. These are now pruned as they grow, to make bushier, more tidily shaped trees than they are by nature. But they drop their needles, and this is unaccountably held against them. The tree of the neurotic Nineties is the Nordman spruce, Abies nordmanniana, which is naturally bushier than the Norway spruce and does not drop its needles, even if it is kept inside for three weeks. The disadvantage is the price, which may be three or four times as much as a traditional Christmas tree.
In the US, they favour the Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris, as a Christmas tree. It has never caught on here, though the Scots pine, too, is good at hanging on to its greenery. Its habit is looser, less symmetrical than a Norway spruce. The noble fir, Abies procera, has the prettiest needles. They are a soft, greyish-blue colour and smell of pinewoods. The lodge pole pine, Pinus contorta, is easier to find in the Midlands and the North than it is in the south. Sometimes you see them with cones on the branches, and they are the prettiest of all. Happy Christmas!