Led up the garden path to a small, damp, sunless cell

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The Independent Online
Spring is here and it is time to get the garden in order, so I have asked horticultural expert Ivy Stubbs to tackle all your garden-related queries.

Dear Ivy,

Last year I received a letter from the organisation called the National Gardens Charity Association thanking me for offering to make my garden available for opening to the public, and suggesting 15 June as a good day.

This was all very well, but I had never heard of the National Gardens Charity Association. So I assumed that there must be some mistake and thought no more about it.

About two weeks later I got another letter from the NGCA saying that as they had not heard from me, they assumed that I had no objection to opening my garden on 15 June and would be putting me in the diary of local gardens open in Suffolk.

Well, although I have quite a decent little garden, there is nothing very much there that any visitor would really want to look at, and it is not half so grand as, for instance, my neighbour's, so I immediately wrote back to the NGCA and said very firmly that there was absolutely no question of my opening the garden to the public, no matter how deserving the charity.

And that might well have been the end of the matter, were it not that two weeks later I received another letter from the NGCA asking me to fill in a form about my garden. They wanted to know things like what flowers would be in bloom, how good my toilet facilities were, whether I wanted to have seedlings and flowers for sale, etc.

This really alarmed me. Obviously my letters were not getting through to them.

Well, I had to be in London the following week, so I thought I would pop along to their offices in Pimlico. Imagine my surprise to find out that they had never heard of the NGCA at the building where their address was located.

'No, hold on,' said the receptionist, 'that does ring a bell. I think they come in here to collect their mail from time to time. But they don't actually have an office here.'

'So they do actually exist?' I said.

'Oh yes,' she said. 'He's a sort of middle-aged bloke in a big hat. Don't often see hats these days. That's why I remember him.'

Next I got a package containing two collecting tins marked National Gardens Charity Association, some bright stickers saying 'Garden Open Today' and a booklet entitled What To Do If You Catch Someone Taking Cuttings From Your Garden.

This did not do much to comfort me, and nor did a phone call from the East Anglian Times asking for an interview with me so that their gardening expert could do an advance write-up on my garden before the grand opening.

'I'm not opening it to the public]' I shouted - rather loudly, I'm afraid - down the phone.

'Well, you're listed in the gardens diary,' said the gardening columnist rather stiffly, 'but if that's your attitude, we'll take it no further.'

Well, I started to get a bit panicky after that, and I could not decide whether to buy lots of flowers to put in the garden, just in case, or whether to go a long way away on the weekend of 15 June. I was very tempted to do the latter, but then I thought that my garden might be invaded and trampled in my absence, so I decided to brave it out.

The week before the 'opening' I got a good luck card from the NGCA. The day before the opening I put up signs all over the place saying 'Gardens Not Open Today', but it was no use - on the day itself more than 400 people turned up. And there was a film crew.

I actually recognised one of the people with the film crew. It was Jimmy Parsons, the popular presenter of the television programme Ever Been Had?, and it suddenly dawned on me that I had been set up. The whole thing was a TV hoax. I should have been relieved, I suppose, but I was enraged, and I picked up a potted plant and bashed him over the head with it.

Of course, if I had known he had a heart condition I would never have done it, but he expired instantly and - well, here I am behind bars awaiting trial. Don't think I'll be opening my garden this year, somehow.

Ivy Stubbs writes: That's all very well, but do you have a question?

Yes. Can you recommend any potted plant suitable for cultivation in a small damp cell which gets no sunlight?

Ivy Stubbs writes: No.

Ivy Stubbs will be back soon to answer more of your gardening queries. Keep them rolling in.

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