Editor-At-Large: Our gardening taste is as bad as it was before Ms Dimmock removed her bra

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Two men met their deaths this month because of a two-foot-high privet hedge. Tomorrow night on ITV you can watch a documentary about florists, in which I seem to do a lot of ranting about flowers I find deeply offensive. Top of the hate list are nasty small roses, followed by chrysanthemums and freesias. Quite frankly they

smell like one of those sprays you zap noxious bathroom odours with. What is it about plants that causes such extremes of emotion? Did you read about Jo-Ann Bowen-Griffith who took Homebase to court last week (unsuccessfully), claiming she was deeply distressed and traumatised by the staff's behaviour when she bought a betulia - a type of begonia? Tempers were raised and as a result she was banned from every branch of the store. So a humble pot plant ends up as pivotal evidence in the High Court.

Hedgeline is a counselling service which has been set up to try to help sort out some of the 10,000 disputes currently raging in back and front gardens all over Britain. To its organisers' chagrin, the Tories recently blocked a private member's Bill that sought to give local authorities the right to force home owners to trim their hedges to an acceptable height, a move that might have saved the courts a lot of petty disputes.

It's not surprising that Hedgeline is kept so busy - I only wish there was a helpline to deal with offensive plastic urns, pampas grass, monkey-puzzle trees and crazy paving. I can see myself as a volunteer manning the phones already: "Hello, Urnline, Janet speaking, how can I help?" It has been suggested that most gardening disputes are about infringement of personal space and excessive policing of boundaries. I disagree. I think they are about taste. And what one neighbour may find whimsical or charming, another will find repugnant and silly. Left to their own devices, most people in this country have pretty appalling taste, and nowhere is this more apparent than in their gardens. We might have wall-to-wall horticulture on television, but I put it to you that the average front garden looks just as ghastly as it did before Charlie Dimmock took her bra off all those years ago. Respectable viewing figures for Ground Force don't actually translate into an improvement in national taste.

One of the best-selling computer software programs at the moment is Geoff Hamilton's 3D Garden Designer. An industry spokesman said that Geoff Hamilton might have died in 1996, but he is "almost deified" by gardeners - but I think you'll still find the new technology and a library of 37,000 plants doesn't translate into anything you'd want to spend time in. Never forget, we may avidly watch Nigella cooking 24-hour slow-roasted pork or whipping up gorgeous summer-fruit soufflés, but we personally tend to eat chicken nuggets and tins of spaghetti letters. We buy books on how to bake bread, but eat Kingsmill white sliced. Forget citizenship or sex education, taste in all matters from gardens to food to interiors should definitely be taught as a core subject starting at primary schools.

The High Hedges Bill is just the first tentative step as far as I'm concerned. Next on the statute book should be a by-law requiring planning permission to cover your front garden with paving, install carriage lamps or plant a big clump of grasses in the middle of a tiny patch of lawn. Anyone who paints a smiley face on their wheelie bin should be fined on the spot. And as for small paved ponds with a couple of weedy water lilies or reeds, covered with netting so the cat can't eat the goldfish, well, don't even get me started. As London allegedly has less traffic now that Ken's congestion charges are acting as a deterrent, we cannot need the same number of traffic wardens. I suggest they are re-trained as horticultural police immediately and despatched to suburbia.

And on your left ...

I'm a celebrity tour guide - get me out of here! Today sees the end of a very successful Architecture Week which has been marked by events across the country. I've played a small part by acting as a tour guide - once around my favourite things in the Victoria & Albert Museum and, last Monday, compering a bus tour of London buildings that I admire. As this had to be squeezed into two hours, lots of my favourites bit the dust, including the Jubilee Line interchange at Westminster station (I suspect the organisers thought that once off the bus, my captive audience might escape) and the former Hoover factory in Perivale, an Art Deco masterpiece (now a branch of Tesco) clearly modelled on the Parthenon.

My shortlist consisted of buildings I'd love to live in - from the flamboyant red Prudential building in Holborn by Alfred Waterhouse to the gothic spires of St Pancras station hotel by Gilbert Scott. The Monsoon building in Paddington by Paul Hamilton, like a cream concrete steamer, nestles up against the elevated section of the A40 and would make a fabulous palace, as would the eccentric and curvaceous glass Ark office building in Hammersmith. I can't wait for some of these wonderful buildings to be reclassified as housing.

My tour of the V&A was more problematic. As it is a warren of staircases, lifts and different levels, I had considered tagging my group to prevent anyone slipping off via Continental ceramics or Korean textiles, but I like to think that my sheer force of personality held us together. After a week of being a guide, I salute the professionals - it's hard work being concise, informative and witty. And as for explaining to the odd American tourist what I really do for a living ...

Another party in Windsor last week, another security nightmare. At the Elton John White Tie and Tiara Ball, which raised money for his Aids Foundation, guests were asked to bring their passports as well as their tickets. From the Beckhams to Michael and Shakira Caine to Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley, all complied. No one pitched up in a merkin and no one gatecrashed. Isn't it about time the royal top brass called in the experts from the other palace down the road? And am I the only person who thinks that having an "Out of Africa" theme for your 21st birthday, inviting a band from Botswana and then cavorting about in loincloths or the garb of the conquering colonialists, was just a little bit insensitive?

Comments