Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

Back in April, in a moment of spring fever, I volunteered the services of my garden to the National Gardens Scheme. It wasn't so much that I think my garden is particularly gorgeous - though it is of interest, if you want a subtropical suburban backyard that will withstand drought, garden pests and children without recourse to carbon emissions, chemicals or cranial damage. It was just that I enjoy garden visiting and I liked the idea of people being able to stand in mine drinking tea and eating cake.

The NGS was originally set up to provide nurses for the terminally ill, but it now raises funds for a variety of causes. These days the gardens that open under its aegis are listed online, but most people still useThe Yellow Book (available from good bookshops). If you put your garden forward for inclusion, it is inspected by an NGS representative to ensure there is enough interest to justify the entrance fee (which in London starts at around £1.50 for a small town garden).

The inspection is a daunting prospect. Luckily, I was so sure my garden would be rejected, I didn't really worry about it. Far more spooky was the fact that everything that could go wrong promptly did so. You know how in Greek mythology, the queen who boasts of her daughter's beauty, or the girl who prides herself on her spinning prowess, incurs the wrath of the gods before you can say "By Jove"? It was a bit like that.

In my case, the first of the horticultural thunderbolts arrived in a package from Thompson & Morgan, the seed and plant company. I'd ordered a batch of Nicotiana sylvestris seedlings in the hope that their stately 5ft stems and fragrant white candelabras of flowers would mask the areas I was still rethinking or replanting.

After several weeks of cosseting, the plants started to develop flower spikes at a suspiciously low level. They were Nicotiana all right, but the smaller bedding variety, and, worse, they weren't white, but magenta and lime-green. I wrote a polite but furious letter to T&M telling them never to darken my letterbox again. They must have taken me at my word because I have not received an apology.

The second thunderbolt came in the form of a plague of rosemary beetles. This pest is comparatively new to the UK and is a rather attractive creature with iridescent green and purple stripes. Unfortunately, it was rather attracted to the rosemary and lavender in the front garden. Even if we weren't vaguely organic, we wouldn't want to spray pesticide on a herb we might use for cooking, so the only way to get rid of it was to pick the bugs off and squidge them between finger and thumb.

The third thunderbolt was the hosepipe ban. Much as I would like to squidge the directors of Thames Water between finger and thumb, this would probably result in criminal proceedings. Instead, I have lugged watering cans to and fro each evening, ministering to bits of new planting that were still trying to settle in. I swear my arms are six inches longer. I'd hoped the lime-green and magenta horrors would expire, but they seem to be thriving.

By the time the NGS lady arrived for the inspection, I had given up all hope of my garden passing muster - indeed, all hope of having a garden at all. I'd expected a dragon, but she was charming, listening politely as I gabbled on about why I didn't use slug pellets and how I kept the pond free of algae without using an algicide (I've got a UV filter).

And, reader, she liked it! She didn't even comment on my arms. So my garden will be open to the public one Sunday in August 2007, by which time, I hope, it will be free of rosemary beetles and luridly coloured tobacco flowers. Do come.

For more information on the National Gardens Scheme, and gardens open in your area, go to www.ngs.org.uk. The Yellow Book costs £7.99 and is also available to order from the website.

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