Victoria Summerley: Town Life

Summer is here. I know this because I have just seen, or rather heard, the first hint of road rage in the garden centre car park
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In these days of global warming, the honking of an irate motorist with a bootful of pelargoniums is a far more reliable indicator of the changing seasons than any amount of bluebells or blossom.

In these days of global warming, the honking of an irate motorist with a bootful of pelargoniums is a far more reliable indicator of the changing seasons than any amount of bluebells or blossom.

The garden centre is within walking distance of my house, so I can stroll smugly past the queue of cars bound for the garden centre, negotiating their way past the queue of cars bound for HMP Wandsworth.

Yes, as well as being conveniently near my house, the garden centre also lies in the shadow of Wandsworth nick.

Actually, that's a lazy cliché. The looming walls of the prison do, indeed, lie to the south on the other side of the road, but thanks to some quirk of architecture, they do not overshadow the tubs of shrubs and perennials for sale.

On a sunny day, the garden centre is an idyllic place. In fact, I find it idyllic all year round: 30 minutes of pottering there is as therapeutic as a stiff drink or a massage, although I would never dream of telling the staff. They might start charging me admission.

Have you ever had one of those relaxation sesssions where the therapist asks you to imagine you're on a white beach, or in a white room? I always imagine I'm in the garden centre: it works much better.

It is for this reason that the garden centre car park seems to me to be an incongruous site for a spot of road rage. But then, not everyone responds to gardening in the same way.

Many regard it as a loathsome chore, which could explain the current trend for completely covering gardens with decking, leaving not a crumb of soil nor a blade of grass in view.

I'm not talking about a little square of decking on which to put a table and chairs, or from which to view your water feature, but the whole nine yards (which is, incidentally, about the average length of a small town garden in Wandsworth).

I've seen quite a few examples of this phenomenon recently in local estate agents' windows. Of course, it could be that the original backyard or patio was covered in concrete, or crazy paving, or some other unsightly or problematic surface.

But this fails to explain why the decked area is completely devoid of any greenery, or, indeed, of anything at all. One example was completely bare - just decking with a wooden fence around it. It looked like a box.

Another was the same, but with the addition of one of those plastic children's playhouses in the shape of a fort. A third had a plastic urn in the corner bearing the forlorn detritus of a moribund shrub.

I like to imagine the sort of conversation that takes place when people come to view the house:

Viewer: "Gosh, how lovely - a box!"

Vendor (simpering coyly): "Oh, I'm afraid it's gone over a bit now. You should have seen it last week."

Or alternatively:

Viewer: "I don't know how you have the time to get it looking so good. Do you get a man in?"

Vendor (with the same coy simper): "Oh, it's no effort. I just sweep it every six months or so."

Perhaps the owners have taken slightly too literally all that home makeover advice that urges you to "turn your garden into an outdoor room"(yes, but not a BOX room.)

Or perhaps, like many people, they just feel unequal to the struggle of keeping a plant alive. I've always found this a bit puzzling. Since the dawn of mankind, we are told, human beings have learned to cultivate crops for themselves and their livestock.

They have used the plants around them for food and medicine, gathering berries and foraging for fungi. If a medieval peasant could scratch a living from the soil, surely a 21st-century City type has the wit to keep a couple of pansies alive in Battersea?

Especially if it means taking out that nice, new, big-bastard 4x4 Beemer for a bit of bovver in the garden centre car park.