Hopefully if you went to the Chelsea Flower Show this week you made a point of visiting the Toff’s Garden that I had specially designed. It was inspired by the Labour campaign in the Oldham East by-election last January; I’m confident it provided lots of ideas for the keen amateur gardener.
As one passed through the entrance with the sign saying “Trespassers Will Be Horsewhipped”, elegantly inscribed in poker-work on the cross section of a sustainable tree trunk, you will have noticed the row of top hats I used as hanging baskets. I alternated grey and black toppers and I think they set off the blooms most effectively.
Riding boots also made amusing plant containers. Just drill a few holes in the sides for the plants to emerge. They were placed strategically round my garden. They are ideal for growing strawberries. In these times of austerity it’s a good idea to cultivate one’s own vegetables, so I included half a dozen very handsome Lobb boots in which I planted potatoes and tomatoes. These were at the far end of the garden, just beyond the rockery – which, incidentally, contained many chunks of stone that had been in my family for several generations.
All my bedding plants were privately educated. They were therefore much hardier, having been through a regime of daily cold baths and lots of Latin. I had the bright idea of planting my petunias in diagonal stripes of different colours to correspond to the ties of some of the smarter regiments. This is something anybody can do – provided you know your regimental ties – and it also works wonderfully well in a window box.
I was especially proud of the lawn in my Toff’s Garden. Hopefully you’ll have noticed the way I broke up the conventional rectangle shape by laying down Rolls-Royce tyre tracks across the far right-hand corner. It gave the impression of some careless toff guest having reversed his vehicle across the lawn at the end of a party for old school chums. Of course, you don’t have to own a Rolls-Royce to achieve this effect. Most decent garden centres now stock the Trakmasta, a neat device for printing the tyre tracks of your chosen car on any lawn. It costs £29.99, including VAT.
I also poshed up the garden shed by the simple means of digging a moat round it and adding a tradesmen’s entrance. Speaking of moats, I know we have all gone mad for water features these days, but why not try something a little more original? In a secluded area of my garden where people could go to stitch up deals with fellow members of the Establishment, fix a place at university for a son or daughter, or organise a peerage, I installed a Pimm’s feature, in which that delightful beverage trickled over cleverly arranged cubes of ice. It was nothing too ostentatious; just discreet, in keeping with the whole atmosphere of that spot.
It’s always a problem, with seedlings, to find a way of scaring off the birds and the lower orders. I find champagne corks are the answer. Ideally, you should pop them roughly every two minutes, but you can also just string half a dozen or so together and hang them over the plants so they swing in the breeze. I find Veuve Clicquot corks best for intimidating most types of garden bird.
The only way of dealing with slugs is to make them socially ill at ease. Just stick two or three copies of Tatler in the soil near your most delicate young plants and most slugs will just want to slink away and the rest will shrivel up with a sense of inferiority. On the other hand, it is time to accept that there is nothing you can do about greenfly. The only thing you can do is ensure that the greenfly on your roses are upper class. Breeders can now supply batches of greenfly from privileged backgrounds which you can place on your roses to drive out the more common aphids. This is the natural, class-war solution to the greenfly problem.
I am convinced that the Toff’s Garden is the future, so don’t delay a moment longer. Sprinkle cigar ash on your compost and get your dibber monogrammed.
By the way, I turned down a Gold Medal for my garden as I feel they are dished out to any old Tom, Dick or Harry entrant these days. There’s a certain cachet in NOT having one on display. Thus I was delighted to learn that it was subsequently bestowed upon my old favourite, Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, instead. I knew Rosy and Rob when they first started their business in the old walled garden at Laverstoke Park, Whitchurch, about 20 years ago. Lovely people, fabulous plants!