ABC: Beginners' end: . . . and so to z

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FINALLY one has to confront the impossibility of X, Y and Z. Exasperating. Yuccant do much with zinniovthem. The danger with alphabets is that having got to the end, you think you know a lot. With gardening, the learning never stops. The more you know, the more you realise what you do not know.

Beginners want rules: now is the time to plant out potatoes, this is the way to take cuttings of geraniums or germinate seeds. Like bringing up babies, this was once information that was absorbed by example rather than swotted up from books. And like child-rearing, a good model, a personal mentor, is better than any page of words.

Rules are of limited use in gardening. They act as a kind of lifebelt when you are starting off, but they can be deceiving. In the end a gardener is better served by his own powers of observation. Rules presuppose standard parameters. But vagaries of climate and season and soil mean that the gardener's parameters constantly change.

'It is the spirit of the age,' wrote Gore Vidal, 'to believe that any fact, no matter how suspect, is superior to any imaginative exercise, no matter how true.' Rebel against the spirit of the age. Your own garden is one of the few places you can do this with impunity. Use your eyes. Don't be afraid to experiment. Trust your own instincts. And indulge - to the fullest possible extent - your imagination.

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