Never trust a deer that won't look you in the eye

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The Independent Online

It may seem a very dead time in the garden just now, but do not be deceived! There is always plenty to do, and plenty of things that need attending to, if only you want to look hard enough for ways of getting out of the house. So here is our January gardening advice column, answering your queries, cutting back our advice and planting some seeds in your mind.

It may seem a very dead time in the garden just now, but do not be deceived! There is always plenty to do, and plenty of things that need attending to, if only you want to look hard enough for ways of getting out of the house. So here is our January gardening advice column, answering your queries, cutting back our advice and planting some seeds in your mind.

Q. Every year I make sure that our garden birds get enough bird seed on the bird table, so I buy big bags of the rather prettily coloured and varied seed that hardware shops sell for the purpose. I often wonder exactly what seeds these are and what would come up if they were sown and grown instead of being fed to the birds. Any idea what they are?

A. For heaven's sake don't even try to grow them! Most of them are strictly illegal. The fact of the matter is that the main source of bird seed is the police. When the police seize drugs, they are meant to destroy them, but often they haven't the heart to kill living matter, so they prefer to sell all seeds such as these derivatives of hemp, cannabis etc on to pet shops.

Q. Isn't that incredibly corrupt and illegal?

A. Not at all! It is perfectly legal for birds to take drugs, even if you can't.

Q. I see. But what happens to the proceeds of the police sale of "bird" seed?

A. It goes towards the erection of more speed cameras in places where the police can collect more fines which will go to the enforcement of more drug laws which will go towards the production of more bird seed. So next time you hear someone say, "Who on earth is benefited by this crazy proliferation of speeed cameras?", tell him: "Wild birds, that's who, mate!"

Q. Although I don't have a garden as such, I do have 7,000 acres of open parkland in which my prize herd of deer can be seen parading most days. You would think that during the winter they would find it harder going than in summer, but I am convinced that in winter-time the numbers of the herd increase faster than in summer! Is this possible and can you suggest a reason for it?

A. Yes. Almost certainly your herd of tame deer is being infiltrated by wily wild deer. It is well-known that wild deer are among the most resourceful, ruthless and cunning of all creatures, and that Britain's population of several million deer cannot only conceal themselves at will in between expeditions to devastate our gardens, but can use their carefully cultivated "Bambi" image to evade all culling and hunting. Recently wild deer have discovered that it is a cushy number if you join a herd of tame deer, as they are fed and protected through the coldest and hardest times, so during the winter they creep into some of the aristocratic and privileged deer parks still left. You can usually tell which the wild deer are, as they find it hard to shake off their urge to avoid attention, and when you approach them they will attempt to hide behind the others, try to look small or simply hum a tune and stare into the distance The basic rule is: Never trust a deer which avoids eye contact.

Q. Friends often make fun of me for not knowing how to pronounce botanical names. If I say CLEMatis, they correct me to ClemEIGHTis, and if I say ClemEIGHTis, they prefer CLEMatis. If I talk about japonicas, they say: "Japonicas ain't a flower, you dolt! It's the Latin for Japanese!". What shall I do?

A. You have two options. One is to take a winter course in botanical Latin, which is great fun and where you'll meet lots of lovely people straight from the pages of Barbara Pym. The other is not to give a toss. In this case, next time someone says to that "Japonicus" is the Latin for "Japanese", say to them: "That's impossible! The Romans never knew about Japan! Latin was a dead language before we discovered Japan! How can it be? Take that!" and playfully head butt them.

More priceless gardening advice tomorrow.

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