Terence Blacker: Hypocrisy behind the garden hedge

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The Independent Online

Under the spreading Bogus Tree (hypocrisia ridiculosa), the talk at the Chelsea Flower Show will have been of gnomes, fairies and the startling varieties of bush that have been on display recently. With open and transparent snobbery, the show's ruling body has banned the attractive little painted figurines that so many people like to see in their gardens. Commenting on the controversy, Dr Robin Lane-Fox made a rather good joke - "If you ban fairies, you have to ban half the garden designers" - and added to the row.

Meanwhile, the show has had no problem whatsoever in the inclusion of a piece of horticultural soft porn, topiary in the form of a reclining nude woman, apparently oblivious to the danger of trauma it may cause to children, not to mention nesting blackbirds. Chelsea's guardians of taste are happy to accept representations of human nakedness in bush form but the sight of a chap with a pointy hat and fishing-rod brings them out in hives.

Yet there is a weird sort of logic behind their decision. Just as anything thought to be, in Victoria Beckham's phrase, "council" will be suspect on a self-respecting lawn, so quasi-erotic displays, in the flower-bed and out, reflect the essentially parasexual nature of gardening.

It first occurred to me that there is more to what happens in many people's gardens than flowers when the great horticulturalist Alan Bloom of Bressingham showed me the draft of a novel he had written. It was eye-wateringly rude, and gave a good impression of being well-rooted in personal experience. Since then, Alan Titchmarsh has won the Literary Review's Bad Sex Prize for his fiction while, more shockingly, he and Charlie Dimmock have become erotic fantasy figures for middle England.

In theory the connection between sex and gardening sounds rather civilised. At a certain time in life, perhaps when things have gone a little quiet in the bedroom, a person's energies and imagination can find expression outside, planting, pruning and messing around with the compost heap. The problem is that what happens in a garden is a social as well as an intimate activity; the whole point of it is display.

So this week's much-publicised case of a 58-year-old nurse, Lynett Burgess, who wandered naked around her garden in the Welsh village of Llandyfriog and was arrested for indecent exposure is less straightforward than might at first seem. The magistrates decided that, although Lynett could be seen by neighbours and passers-by - on all fours sometimes, the court was told rather unnecessarily - she was within her rights. The jubilant nurse told the world's press that she had been very upset by the case. "I am a Christian and go to church," she explained. "It has caused me acute anxiety."

Such was her acute anxiety that she then posed for the press, stark naked while holding a distressingly inadequate sycamore leaf in front of her. It was at this point that even libertarians might have begun to feel some sympathy for the neighbours. Anyone, Christian or not, who enjoys exposing their pale, dimpling, middle-aged flesh to the public while presenting herself as a victim risks raising the suspicion - no doubt misplaced in Lynett's case - that her preferred gardening will be of the fruit, perhaps the nut, variety.

But, if for nothing else, both she and the randy topiarist of the Chelsea Flower Show deserve thanks for bravely exposing to the grey light of a summer's day, gardening's own dirty little secret.

Role for a dead man walking

There has been worryingly little news recently of Chuck Lamb, better known as Deadbodyguy. Deadbodyguy was photographed pretending to be dead - electrocuted, stabbed, killed by avian flu. His website deadbodyguy.com was so successful that, briefly, he became a celebrity.

But career-wise, it turns out that corpse-impersonation is a bit of a dead end - until now. This week a man called Paul Anderson celebrates 20 years as an extra pushing a trolley in 518 episodes of Casualty.

Clearly the BBC has a generous attitude to its non-speaking non-stars and, heaven knows, there are parts for corpses in Casualty. If America's Deadbodyguy would come over to work with our Trolleyman, viewers could see two masters working together.

* The usual sneering has been evident in coverage of a party held for charity by Britain's most graceful couple, Mr and Mrs Beckham. A very silly man called Dave West has been bleating publicly that he was not treated with the respect which a pink-suited lap-dancing club entrepreneur deserves.

He had paid £100,000, silly idiot, for two tickets to the party but had refused to go when one of the Beckhams' entourage - no doubt employed to keep people like Dave West away from them - reminded him that it was black-tie affair.

West complained that celebrities had later arrived in T-shirts, open-necked shirts or no shirts at all.

Of course they had. On these occasions, civilians dress correctly while the famous are competitively scruffy. That the pink-suited one failed to understand this basic rule of modern etiquette confirms how out of his depth he would have been at the party.

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