Friday, 17 July 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 17 July

When visiting friends, is it acceptable to interfere with their garden? Thomas Blaikie smooths over this thorny issue

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
When going round friends’ gardens I’ve always pulled out any weeds encountered en route and even cut out the odd bit of dead wood. Suddenly the other day my wife said, ‘You’re interfering.’ Now I’m unsettled. What do you think? Colin Fanshawe, Bagshot

Dear Colin,
Recently I heard a commentator, I think on Radio 4, declare with authority that gardeners are a blessed race, always curious and humorous. ‘Really!’ my mother said at once. She’s known quite a few gardeners in her time, some of them rather famous. One mustn’t generalise of course.

While the vagaries of weather, disease and the general tendency of plants to refuse to behave as expected might call for patience, there’s no doubt that many gardeners are prickly to say the least, rather like some of the thornier shrubs they choose to grow. The late Christopher Lloyd, one of Britain’s most well-known gardeners, was engaging, brilliant and witty, but also opinionated and dismissive. As a gardener myself, I cannot resist, in other people’s gardens, pulling out saplings of sycamore and so on that shouldn’t be there and also larger weeds, as well as making bossy remarks: ‘That buddleia will destroy your wall if you don’t get it out straight away.’ But I only carry on like this if I sense that the garden owner is not really a gardener. Sometimes they rather pathetically say, ‘What do you think I should do with this bush?’ ‘Bring the secateurs!’ I say. Before they know it, that bush is looking very decidedly a former bush. ‘Thanks a lot,’ they say with a wounded air.

Non-gardeners never prune hard enough and never water adequately. My neighbours’ gardens need quite a lot of attention as their Russian vine, which they bought on the one and only visit to the garden centre because the label said, ‘Covers fences quickly’ rampages everywhere, growing 20ft a month. I’ve even been known to say, ‘Can’t you get rid of it?’ On the whole, they’re grateful for my guidance. To conclude, it’s okay to ‘help out’ (but anything drastic, you must consult) in the gardens of non-gardeners, provided it is clearly established between you that you know something about it and they don’t.

With fellow experts it’s a different matter. I’d be only too delighted if someone would do a bit of weeding in my garden.

But many gardeners are unbelievably competitive and if you try to interfere you might find that you’d be better off sitting inside a thorn bush.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


Anne McElvoy, in the Evening Standard, points out some disturbing new developments on the email front. Already, it’s getting antiquated, she says. The young don’t use it. I also notice an increasing tendency not to reply promptly to emails. But wasn’t the whole point of email when it started out that it’s so easy to reply? No more unreturned phone calls or unanswered letters, we all thought. Now it seems everyone’s switched to Facebook messaging or something called Snapchat. It must be that email resembles too much an old-fashioned letter. The modern attention span, reduced to 140 Twitter characters at most, just can’t cope with it. If you’re like me and only accessible via email, people might gingerly approach you through that channel but never look out for your reply. What’s needed is a warning banner across all emails: ‘This person takes an average of x number of days to respond… This person prefers to communicate via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…’

Surely, with all the monitoring of Internet activity that goes on, this could well be possible.

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