Watch those bulbs! Garden power is here

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The Independent Online

It is a sunny Tuesday morning in north London, and I am sitting at my keyboard, considering the construction of my next sentence and seeking creative inspiration by glancing out of my study window at next door's newly made-over back garden. For if they can fit North American-style cedarwood decking, sundry potted palms and a pergola into an area no more than 50ft square, then surely I can unearth some half-decent adjectives from a holiday-parched mind.

It is a sunny Tuesday morning in north London, and I am sitting at my keyboard, considering the construction of my next sentence and seeking creative inspiration by glancing out of my study window at next door's newly made-over back garden. For if they can fit North American-style cedarwood decking, sundry potted palms and a pergola into an area no more than 50ft square, then surely I can unearth some half-decent adjectives from a holiday-parched mind.

The current enthusiasm for gardening is inspirational on many levels. Indeed, I will be surprised if, come the next election campaign, New Labour does not attempt to capitalise on it, perhaps by pinning a rosette to the celebrated chest of Charlie Dimmock and presenting her as a symbol of economic growth and regeneration.

In the film Being There, Peter Sellers played a simple gardener whose banal horticultural pronouncements were misinterpreted as profound insights into matters fiscal. It could yet come to pass. After all, what is the so-called trickle-down effect - by which the less fortunate echelons of society are thought to benefit bythe rich getting richer - but an economic water feature? And who is William Hague if not a political Alan Titchmarsh?

Titchmarsh, incidentally, likes to recall that his broadcasting career began in 1979 when, as the humble editor of a gardening magazine, he was invited on to the BBC programme Nationwide to tell the people of Margate how to get rid of a sudden plague of greenfly. So when next you set about the common greenfly, consider how the little blighter has contributed to the sudden plague of Alan Titchmarsh, and do it with extra fervour.

More significantly, consider the evolution of gardening magazines over the past 21 years. Not only have they grown like topsy in size and number, but their editors are among this country's most important opinion-formers, with the ability to influence a million rockeries, not to mention expenditure estimated to reach £3.6bn a year.

For just as fish is the new meat, and Jamie the new Delia, so is gardening the new DIY, and clematis the new MDF. The evidence for this is overwhelming. Newly released figures show that over the past six months the circulation of gardening magazines has rocketed, in one instance by an incredible 35 per cent. In the same period, sales of home-improvement magazines have withered.

Here I should declare my indifference toward both hobbies. On the DIY front, I am the sort of person who, when my children ask me to play Mousetrap with them, considers calling in a plumber to help with the installation of that tricky plastic bathtub. Yet that does not stop me bursting with pleasure at the sight of a blazing hanging-basket or a lush, even lawn. In fact, I am horrified by the current vogue hereabouts for paving over front gardens to provide off-street parking. Have these people no pride? Don't they watch Ground Force?

Still, they had their come-uppance at our street party earlier this summer, when a woman from the local horticultural society judged the best front-garden competition and evidently decided that the most aesthetically pleasing spaces were those without the Ford Mondeo centrepiece. Not that I was in wholehearted agreement with her choice of winner. To me, the rabbit-shaped topiary seemed a little over the top. But then anything goes in horticulture these days.

I can even think of one tiny London garden that boasts a tree-house (but no tree), raised flowerbeds, a pergola, a hammock, a herb garden and a camomile lawn. It cost me all of two grand but was worth every penny. Moreover, it is an eloquent expression of my individuality yet didn't cause me a second's backache. Now that's Blairite Britain for you.

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