In Anticipation of the Squabble

There is an old saying: ‘judge a man for his words, love a man for his garden’. This simple phrase has lived with me, and shaped me, for as long as I can remember. It has been the key to all my notable political, social and romantic successes, and it’s almost certainly the criterion I will be using to decide the nations fate in the upcoming general election.

I know there are others who share my monstrously over-proportioned and under-thought political philosophy. There must be thousands of people across the nation willing to shape their countrymen’s future around who has a nicer birdbath. But where is our voice? Discussions in the British media and on the floor of the commons all seem to focus on superficial titbits and ‘policies’. It seems that this election will be discussed in terms of healthcare, electoral reform and budget cuts, with no indication as to whether Gordon Brown is a man who can be trusted with a pruning saw.

So my capricious and enfranchised flower lovers. I have decided to slide my head above the parapet and talk political gardens – if you don’t like the agenda, be the agenda.

Up until 2007 political garden commentating was far too easy, we had Anthony Blair. Tony knew what he liked in a garden – he liked playing football with Noel Gallagher. Tony’s simple, fun-guy, beers ‘n’ barbeques attitude towards the garden was designed to speak volumes about the laid back kind of bloke he was. It spoke of his hedonistic student days studying art at Goldsmiths College, it spoke of the early years of his career playing rhythm guitar for Blur, it said ‘hey, I might be Prime Minister of Great Britain, but I like birds and lager and Loaded Magazine, just like you’.

A kick-about at Number 10

On the other side of the boundary fence Tory gardening policy has been one long process of recovery from 1986, when Neal Kinnock adopted the red rose as the Labour Party logo. All Conservative leaders since that day have been searching for a suitable replacement for red roses in their stately English gardens. Thatcher supported true blue delphiniums, Major felt empathy towards forget-me-nots, Hague tried hop vines, Ian Duncan Smith was also leader and Michael Howard liked Ivy. Confused planting choices from confused minds, it’s no wonder they were in opposition for 13 years.

What then of the New Tory Prince? We know he once came 92nd in New Woman’s poll of the 100 sexiest men alive, despite having a face like a suet pudding, we know he likes oatcakes with butter and cheese, but all has been quiet on the garden front. That is, until now. All you other garden bloggers can consider yourselves scooped – I’ve got the low down on David Cameron’s garden.

Suet Pudding

Dave recently repaid £680 that he had claimed in expenses for clearing wisteria from his chimney. Scandalous! Why was this wisteria ever allowed to reach the chimney? As one of the most senior politicians in Britain Cameron should know that wisteria is best pruned twice yearly (once in July or August and once in January or February) to encourage flowering and control growth. Overgrown wisteria of this nature leads me to believe that Cameron’s garden is all about popular crowd-pleasing plants that have been improperly researched and will be ineffectively maintained. He almost certainly has a hugely overgrown clump of bamboo in his quaint Cotswold garden, probably planted in the ground force days to go with his decking, and left to run wild now that local stone is back in. He probably has an apple tree that has fallen over for some reason; he definitely hasn’t checked why it fell over because this year it’s all about vegetable plots. I’m not in the business of trying to influence votes, but would you trust a man with a fallen-over apple tree and a garden full of bamboo?

So what has Gordon Brown got to combat the fickle might of Tory wisteria? Never a man to be seduced by the lure of hot tubs and naked statuary Gordon’s garden has been inspired by the landscapes and plants of his native Scotland, more specifically by the landscape and plants of the Sherrifhall Roundabout on Scotland’s Edinburgh Bypass. Stands of Pyracantha bland tastefully into a background of Hedra helix, while Aucuba japonica (spotted laurel) provides the excitement by clashing with everything, including itself. This is a garden by a man who has tired of gardening. Devoid of imagination, inspiration and direction it almost makes you wish that Tony Blair were back at number 10 with his novelty full size trampoline. Again not a vote worthy garden.

The Famous Edinburgh Bypass

The Tories are shallow and Labour is hopeless. I’m afraid that this year it looks like another spoiled ballot from Ben’s Garden.


Through the Gardens of Your Mind

As a man who has read The Perfumed Garden in its erotic entirety, and still can’t plant a fragrant border, I’m painfully aware that the garden lends itself all to easily to metaphor. I’ve sat through Gary Cooper frolicking about in the Garden of Evil, a-shooting and a-hooting with out ever doing any real rooting. I’ve watched countless episodes of In The Night Garden and still think its nothing but crap puppets (night gardens are of course full of night-soil) and childish nonsense. These things I can forgive; after all, I like cartoons, cowboys and lascivious obscenity as much as anyone. No, the garden metaphor that’s really giving me brain slugs at the moment is the ‘Your Mind as a Garden’ trope.

The Perfumed Garden

Your mind is a garden, what you sow you shall reap. Plant and care for your important seeds; the seeds of success, the seeds of getting that novel published, the seeds of being nice to your lovers and not spending all your money before you earn it. Weed frequently and deeply, make sure you remove even the smallest fragments of the ‘what’s the point of it all?’ weeds, the ‘but my novel’s rubbish no one will ever like it’ weeds, the ‘I’m a disappointing failure to myself and the very few people who actually care about me seeds’. Compost your weeds and use them to grow huge succulent marrows of success. Prune the trees of your ego often, lest they should overshadow the tender shoots of modesty. At all times make sure you stamp on brain slugs.

Meaningless nonsense!! Magazines are awash with it and the Internet overflows. We all know that the mind is not a garden – it’s a motorbike! By conflating the mind and the garden these overly simplistic philosophies denigrate the two most awe-inspiring phenomena in existence – the human brain and the spirit of cultivation. Anyway, if any of these spiritual ramblers had ever done any gardening they would know that what you sow you definitely shall not reap, plant the seeds of success in a real garden and you’ll probably get a mixed bag of success, slight recognition, acceptable performance and could-do-better plants. You didn’t plant F1 seeds did you? You sowed to early and that bed is far too alkaline for proper success – you fool. Also brain slugs cannot be guarded against at all times, staying up all night crouching in wait in cerebral gardens to stamp on brain slugs smacks of paranoid personality disorder.

The New Age Garden

The mind garden analogy is fairly useful for areas that are generally O.K. but could do with a little tidy-up/more you time. But I know a lot of gardens that could only realistically be fixed by ripping them out in their entirety and starting from scratch. If the garden of your mind was crazy paved in the 70’s (we’ve all seen/met them) and accessorised with ground elder and spreading bamboo then surely these gurus of the new age are advocating nothing short of full frontal lobotomy and rebuild, or at the very least a Clockwork Orange style reprogramming – it’s dangerous and barbarous rhetoric of the most pernicious kind.

Say no to the new age! Your mind is not a garden; it is an incredibly complicated and unfathomable collection of neurones and synapses. Likewise your garden is not a blob of wobbly grey matter somewhere sheltering the human spirit and the secret of sentience – it’s a roughly rectangular patch of earth for growing flowers and vegetables. Now everyone pick up your scalpels and your drills and let’s get gardening.

Watch out for Brain Slugs

I Didn’t Get Where I am Today by Sitting Around Reading Ben’s Garden Blog

One day I hope to make a horticultural living, it’s a seedy ambition I’ll admit. I once thought that love, music, and gardening were above an hourly price, and that to confess a desire to do them for cash would be like admitting ‘one day I hope to make a living from my favourite daughter’. How could I sully something so beautiful and pure just to put bread in my mouth and beer in my belly? Well I’m thirsty and hungry and I don’t care anymore. I’ve sold my soul to the Great Green God and the high priests of BTECH and I want my earthly rewards.

High priests of BTECH deciding this years syllabus.

So I’ve started thinking about my career, and as part of my investigations into Making a Fortune and Getting Away With It I have come across a curious breed of people, the Pro-gardener. Pro-gardeners are tough hard-hitting male workers who don’t do gardens – they do jobs. If every statement you hear starts with: ‘I didn’t get where I am today by….’, you can bet you have strayed into conversation with a pro-gardener. ‘I didn’t get where I am today by walking around with my shoe laces untied’ ‘I didn’t get where I am today by wasting time eating vegetables’ ‘I didn’t get where I am today by twatting about on the internet’. Well Mr Alan Garden Sugar neither did I, they’re just things I like to do on the journey.

Pro-gardeners have a universal collective delusion that they are not horticultural workers, but mercenary bionic soldiers from the future. They swap notes and stories on X-K-8000 loppers and Slash-Master 3000 lawn mowers. They talk about kill ratios, conquests and terraforming alien ecosystems with massive muscle bound JCB diggers. The pro-gardener is an unfathomable and scary beast, and the main weapon in their arsenal is that some of them actually make money (almost unknown in the horticultural sector), but listen closely I have discovered a chink in their steel toe-capped armour! Their one natural enemy, a group whose mere mention will drive them to beetroot-faced strops and howls of snotty nosed derision. The jobbing gardener.

The jobbing gardener and the pro-gardener are locked in eternal combat, both service the same area and both are self-employed. The pro has the kit, the jobber has the price, the pro has a sign written van (something like ‘Ace 1 Gardens 4U – Be The Best’), the jobber has a bicycle and a rucksack full of jam sandwiches. But it is not competition that stokes the pro-gardeners antipathy – it is shame. The jobber reminds the pro of the horrible secret lurking behind their apparent success. The secret that its not very hard to mow a lawn, anyone can do it, all you have to do is walk in straight line.

Ace 1 Gardens 4U

Being of Orwellian mind I naturally sympathise with the jobber. These are the plongeurs of the gardening world. Downtrodden toilers who refuse to dignify humiliating labour by ascending the slippery golden ladder of success. To expand, to invest, to take out insurance and buy a decent pair of shears, all these things would be to admit defeat to the world and its salary driven norms. It is for the jobber that the Jolly Gardeners pubs of England are named, hard working men with no ambition beyond finishing a hot days toil and having a frothy pint of ale, and certainly no mind to go home and draw up a marketing plan. However being a hip young urbanite I have all manner of successful friends to keep up with, all sorts of expensive vices to indulge and a heavy London rent to pay – things that all whisper to me of a fleet of shiny silver BensGarden 4U vans, packed with well oiled Extermatron 900 strimmers and micro chipped smart trousers; after all I won’t get where I’m going by sitting in the sunshine drinking tea.

So here I teeter, like a young Anakin Skywalker battling with my conscience and the temptations of the Dark Side. A solution must found and something must be done. I invite reader contributions into how to strike gold in the world of horticulture without turning into a tosspot. Any winning answers will be entitled to either a 10% share of my future profits or a flagon of foaming ale (which at the moment look like being roughly equivalent in value).