Magazine article The Spectator

Present Time

Magazine article The Spectator

Present Time

Article excerpt

If gardening had not existed, we should certainly have had to invent it. How else could we grapple with those eternal questions, like what to do with a Sunday afternoon in November or, even more important, what to choose to give our relations and friends for Christmas? Gardening, or its associated hardware at least, can prove our salvation in early December, giving us the leisure to concentrate on the truly everlasting aspects of Christmas, safe in the knowledge that we have carried out the least important, and most time-consuming, of all Christmas duties.

All the world loves a gadget. As every parent knows, the most enjoyable presents to buy for children are those which promise fun or intrigue. We never grow out of that. The garden centres and mail-order catalogues are stuffed with knick-knacks - terracotta labels, ornamental pot 'feet' and cane tops, radar frogs which croak at you alarmingly as you walk by, house-plant waterers in the shape of hollowed-out kingfishers, each devised to make the most mundane horticultural arena slightly less dull. There are any number of handy-looking little tools for digging weeds from paving, sharpening knives, wrapping outside taps, cleaning boots, sowing seeds, all holding out the possibility of a slightly easier, or certainly more agreeable, gardening life. The ubiquity of these 'gift ideas' is proof of their popularity.

In the end, however, all this is froth and bubble. If you really want to give your sister-in-law something for which she will be truly grateful, and remember you with kindness every time she uses it, then I am afraid that you are going to have to spend some serious money. The most useful and acceptable gardening presents are undoubtedly those which will set you back a bit: a pair of swivel-handled Felco secateurs, for example, a garden vacuum cleaner (yes, I mean it), a trolley truck, a family of stainless steel tools, a potting bench, a ,quiet' shredder, a weather station or a 'transonic' device to discourage cats and badgers. If you are after something more aesthetic, there are any number of pigs made out of willow, hammocks, verdigris cranes, armillary spheres or Versailles tubs on the market. If you persist in giving her a T-shirt with 'Gone to Seed' stamped on it, and she reads this, she will quickly take the point.

For some reason, none of my enormous family (except for my garden-minded father and my ungarden-minded, but thoughtful, father-in law) ever gives me anything vaguely horticultural for Christmas, unless I specifically ask for it, and even then only after a lot of fuss and cries of 'how boring'. …

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