Urban gardener, Cleve West: On the fiddle

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The Independent Online

I'm sure Henry wasn't creeping up on us when he caught me fiddling with Jamie in my allotment shed, but it made me jump none the less. Apologising, he sat a polite distance away and blew smoke rings as I regained composure and made another attempt to get my fingers around an arpeggio in G.

I'd never played the violin; in fact, save for four or five chords on a guitar (more than enough for any self-respecting school punk band in the late Seventies), I've never been interested in playing anything - until I heard Jamie Smith, a talented Irish fiddler, on a friend's CD. Amazingly he agreed to take me on and, with the patience of Job, has guided me through the first few lessons so that I can almost play a tune. Admittedly the slow, hesitant pace can sound like a cat with an arrow through its neck, but in the shed or the greenhouse it's not bothering anyone.

Music has an incredible influence on most of us, regardless of whether we're aware of it or not, and I've often wondered if gardeners are influenced by music in their work. Repetition and rhythm often figure strongly in both hard-landscaping and planting schemes, just as meter, melody and structure play an important part in the expressive power of music. Music can not only convey emotion, it can induce emotion and this, I think, at risk of disappearing up my own derriÿre, is what some of us secretly strive for - the ability to create gardens that might work on an emotional level.

Interestingly, though, unless part of an occasion or event, music played in a garden can range from mildly intrusive to plain vulgar. Play the same musical score that accompanies a televised garden among its herbaceous borders and pot-encrusted patio and you have crossed the boundaries of good taste.

Sound, as opposed to anything you can tap a beat or sing along to, probably carries more potential in a garden setting; but even this is something one might only experience in a conceptual garden.

Some people listen to music as they garden but, classical music excepted, I personally find it an intrusion. Music at the drawing board, however, is relaxing and, by inference, potentially inspiring. I couldn't say that any particular type of music affects a design, but it seems to act as a catalyst for creativity.

Some like to sing in the garden. Garden designer Andrew Wilson sings classical tenor. A boy soprano at seven years old, he likes the portability of singing and is often unable to contain himself while working in his own garden. 'I like that connection of the exhilaration of the open air with an intuitive response like singing,' he says. 'It's a bit like the shower in a way ... it shows I'm enjoying myself.' The garden writer Stephen Anderton also sings and has installed a stage and backdrop (designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole) in his garden for live performances.

The connection between music and landscape is, I fear, heavily weighted towards that of gardens influencing music and not vice-versa, but most people would probably agree that a good garden should sing to you. I suppose the perennial debate is whether music can help plants grow? Some gardeners swear that classical music is beneficial to their houseplants; others insist only heavy metal will keep them on their toes.

It's an attractive notion, but I seriously hope this is not the case, as it would undoubtedly affect my progress with said fiddle. The greenhouse (when it's not too humid) is a great place to practise and if plants are affected by bad vibes then my tomato crops next year will have blight before you can whistle the first line of 'Come into the Garden, Maud'. There might be a useful spin-off here if slugs and snails find my fiddling a little too off-key for comfort - so watch this space as I will be more than happy to hire out my services to Independent readers (at the going rate, of course).

Jamie Smith's album 'Jamie Smith' is available via www.jamski.co.uk

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