In case you're my next door neighbour and you're wondering why there are always so many snails in your garden, I'll come clean now: they're mostly put there by me.
It's not that I'm particularly squeamish about killing the things, because actually I quite enjoy the satisfying crunch of shell against mucual grey body. Rather, I chuck them over your wall as a punishment for having such a rubbish garden. I hate your unmown lawn, your overgrown hawthorn hedge and, most especially, the bindweed that creeps over your wall and mingles evilly with my schizandra.
In fact, there's only one garden round these parts that I hate more than yours. And that's the really amazing one belonging to the incredibly handsome, likeable and talented TV superstar gardener who lives a mile down the road. Unfortunately, I can't chuck snails that far. Otherwise I would.
The reason that I'm ranting in this vein is because of the stroke recently suffered by the Gardeners'-World-presenting heart-throb Monty Don. Someone commented that it was surprising that such a thing should happen to a chap from so balmy and genteel a world as horticulture. And I said: "Rubbish. Gardening's hell!"
Take this year's Chelsea Flower Show. You'd think that nothing in the English social calendar could be more staid. But that's to reckon without the vicious rivalry that exists between some of the prima donna designers and TV presenters: there were whispering campaigns beforehand (one designer wrote to another's sponsor accusing him of plagiarism); there were rippings-down of prize plaques by gardeners who felt that they hadn't had their due; there was even a full-on punch up.
Gardening people, though terribly nice on the surface, are a seething mass of resentment, insecurity, paranoia and bitchery. I remember once going to a very grand lunch hosted by a friend who has one of the best auricula collections in the country. Also there was the eminent gardener Christopher Lloyd, who glanced at her auriculas for all of 10 seconds before dwelling at length on a manky specimen he'd found in her glasshouse. "Oh dear," he pronounced with glee. "Seems to be developing a spot of mildew."
Gardeners are like that. They pretend to be admiring your borders in a spirit of kinship, when all they're really doing is looking for plants to steal, ideas to plagiarise and weaknesses to gloat over. A bit like bridge – another of those bloodsports devised by old people to torment the young – there are so many ways you can go wrong.
You can't have too many leaves of the same shape; you can't have too much bare earth; you can't grow plants such as Dutchman's britches, bachelor's button, or busy lizzies, because they're too common (as is not using Latin names), but if you just dot your border with lots of rare plants ("special specials", as they're known) that's bad too, because you're supposed to plant in big blocks not itsy-bitsy patches. These secrets are all revealed to you by degree, in the manner of Freemasonry.
But not before you've first gone through the rituals of sly mockery, humiliation and embarrassment. Show me the child of a half-way keen gardener and I'll show you an orphan, for gardening is such a full-time job there isn't time for inconveniences such as bedtime stories. There are tender, fragile seedlings to water (neglect them once and that's it, they're gone), weeds to pull up, pests to eradicate, compost to be turned, flowers to be deadheaded. And at the very time of year when you most need a rest from all that backbreaking work – August – your borders and vegetable plots are in most need of attention. As Monty Don could tell you, holidays are for wimps.
So if you're after a restful pastime to soothe your old age, for God's sake don't take up gardening. Consider something more placid and less competitive – like, maybe, the Cresta Run.
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