If you were at Chelsea this week I hope you stopped by my unhealthy show garden. It was rather tucked away, just behind the stall selling organic wind chimes.
At the entrance I planted some lovely examples of the sapling the Whippy Ash, whose eye-level branches are particularly supple and spring back surprisingly quickly when the person in front of you pushes past them. I created a narrow avenue of these leading to my very special patio.
Instead of laying stone slabs for the patio, I gave it a genuinely rustic flavour by using old cattle-grids. Ladies in high heels stumbling to the left had a chance to appreciate the giant non-fruiting blackberry bush; or, if they lurched to the right, the Nettle Bower – a first for Chelsea, I think.
As you would expect, herbs played an important part in the garden. There was a fine selection of rare traditional plants, such as Sexton’s Jinx, Old Matilda’s Allergy and Shooting-Pain-in-the-Squire’s-Eyebrow. You would also have been able to admire the bronze leaves and the tiny pink flowers of that delightful herb Hornet’s Friend, which certainly lives up to its name.
To help visitors identify some of these lesser-known plants, I stuck little labels next to them with the names written in Latin in very small letters. One was particularly noteworthy as, when crouching down, visitors would be sure to discover Widow Watson’s Pincushion. You can identify it by its spikes, rather like those of a sea urchin.
Standing up suddenly after reading the labels probably made many feel a bit giddy. So to the left, just beyond the concealed pond, there was the welcome sight of the Rotted Bench. This old piece of rustic furniture was home to no fewer than 126 different species of lichen and fungus, including, I am proud to say, Swagman’s Pong, which is normally found only in uninhabited parts of Australia’s Northern Territory.
The Rotted Bench formed part of the wildlife conservation feature of the garden, as was the habitat of many kinds of wood-eating beetle and also directly above my miniature tropical swamp where the larvae of many flying insects thrived. On warm show evenings visitors were able to sit and admire the swirling, ever-changing shapes of the swarms of midges and mosquitoes.
Thanks to sponsorship by the manufacturers of an anti-histamine nasal spray, I was able to fulfil a long-held ambition to create a Pollen Pavilion. Whilst standing in tall grass, visitors were able to enjoy some of the country’s most prolific pollen-producing trees, shrubs and flowers. Many visitors came up to me with tears in their eyes, to tell me how much this feature had meant to them.
If you are thinking of creating your own unhealthy garden, you might want to follow my example and place a collection of stone slabs or boulders in a strategic position. I chose some blocks of lovely mellow Cotswold stone and put them in the middle of a path where they looked particularly attractive.
It is essential that the stones are exactly the right size. In other words, they should be small enough to convince a person that he or she will be able to lift them, but heavy enough to make it a mistake to do so. Thanks to this, they can be sure of having a back pain or a throbbing foot that will last them all the way through those long winter months.
The new fashion for the “overgrown look” in horticulture is also a great asset in creating your own unhealthy garden. Hazards such as rakes can be amusingly concealed in long grass and overcrowded flowerbeds.
Many suppliers now stock pre-rusted cast iron barbecue set parts which can be distributed round the garden in strategic positions to get a nice toe-stubbing effect. They also do heavy-duty bird-feeders which, when suspended from overhanging branches, make a very satisfying clang when you bump your head on them.
My favourite product is the new Wilkinson Lawn Sprinkler, known as “The Irregular”. It lies dormant, then suddenly spurts into life when you are least expecting it …