Why is everyone scared of the old Head Gardener?

I went to my friends Mike and Alice on Bank Holiday Monday:

It’s ok to say all this.

It’d never occur to them that they might be in our blog!

Only one of them can master a mobile phone and that’s Alice and if you so much as mention sending them an email they both hang their heads in shame. Great to find people even less technological than me! 

As I walked thro the gate I could see exactly what had happened: the garden had been tidied within an inch of its life. It’s the sort of thing that happens to most of the gardens I visit.

They say that the Queen thinks that everywhere, apart from Buck House that is, smells of new paint. I think that everyone’s garden is a hell of a lot tidier than mine. 

Or at first I did and then I discovered the truth. I mean some of it looks a bit hasty. The edges have always just been done. The pruning cuts are rather new and so on. You get the picture. Another way of finding out is to praise the state of play in the garden. There is often a deep sense of relief!

What’s this all about?

It’s the fact that Robert, the ex Head Gardener, is visiting!

I mean, I know I look a bit Somerset Maughan-ish and scary here:

But I had just been told to hold my second chin in.

If people could see my patch….. Really folks, when I visit people socially I am more interested in sitting down, grabbing a glass of wine and having a gossip. I don’t really care about what people’s gardens are like. In fact I would cheerfully not see them at all – I am off duty. Send me on a job and I’m all eyes. 

Instead, Alice came bustling out of the house and we had to look round the garden in exacting detail. I praised the tidiness of the garden and, bless her, she practically wilted at the knees with gratitude. Every square inch of soil in the borders had been neatly forked to the consistency of self raising flour. 

When I commented on this, she nodded emphatically and said ‘Yes, I knew that you would think that was important.’

And suddenly I did mind what someone else did in their garden! 

Forking the borders, creating a fine tilth, tickling the soil over, freshening up the soil, call it what you will, is a procedure that belongs to tidiness and housework and not to gardens. When applied to planted borders it should be outlawed! 

It is a complete fallacy that this could be beneficial. In fact the opposite is the case. It causes damage to soil life, damages roots, brings weed seeds to the surface, causes soil to dry out faster. It is, as Sellar and Yeatman were fond of saying in 1066 and All That, ‘generally a bad thing.’ 

Really the most I ever embark on is a slight easing of compaction where I have trodden consistently. Sometimes I just slightly scuff the upper few millimetres with my hands or the lightest scratch from the handfork. More often than not I hide the surface I have disrupted with a few shovelfuls of compost.

Why on earth do what the worms and other soil organisms do for you any way?

R

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