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Gardeners fancy railway sleepers

AS OBJECTS of desire go, it must be one of the most unlikely. But as any viewer of BBC1's Ground Force will know, the railway sleeper has become the must-have accessory for the fashion-conscious gardener.

Now, however, the TV series that has made a star of its horticultural makeover expert Charlie Dimmock is creating such demand that prices are spiralling and suppliers are having to import fresh stocks to avert a national shortage.

For those not among the six million who tune in each week to see the team perform garden miracles, railway sleepers are used to edge patios, lawns and water features. Until recently, you could pick up a 10ft sleeper for as little as pounds 12.50; now you would need almost twice as much.

"I like them because they have such a natural finish and so they weather down well," said Ms Dimmock. They are ideal for making a bridge across a stream or ditch because they are so strong."

Railway track maintenance companies and scrap reclamation yards have been inundated with requests from amateur gardeners imitating the celebrity presenters.

Ms Dimmock has already become the Delia Smith of gardening, since most things she recommends become best-sellers. After demonstrating how to plant willow trees, demand for them shot up by 300 per cent at garden centres.

Steve Tomlin of Catbrain Reclamation Services in Painswick Beacon, Gloucestershire said: "Railway sleepers have become part of the new chic. We are one of the biggest yards in the country and we can't get enough of them."

There is only a limited national supply of sleepers. About 90,000 of the national total of 38 million sleepers in use are replaced every year and retail for up to pounds 23 each - a business worth pounds 2m a year.