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About A Week: Plants With Headaches

Oh dear! It's time to get into the garden again. Peter Hinchliffe is happier looking out onto a garden, rather than tending to its needs.

Excuse me for a mo while I put my arm back in its. socket. I'm still aching after giving the lawn its first back-and-sides of the season.

Our new one-pull easy-to-start mower would be eager for combat.

Think again!

"Look at that grass," said I in January. "First month of the year, and it already needs cutting. Global warming I suppose."

Then, remembering past arm-aches, "We need a new mower. That old one only starts when it's in a good mood, and more often than not it's feeling grumpy."

Old was traded in for new. A gleaming machine with black paintwork and a natty red "hat" over the engine. There it sat in the garage for some weeks, evidently eager to get out and show the grass who was boss.

On the first sunny afternoon the machine was trundled towards the battle front. I tugged the starter cord, anticipating the instant bray of an engine eager for work.

There was a feeble whirr, then silence.

Another tug. And another. Same result.

Twenty-one hearty tugs on the cord were required before that wretched engine burst into life.

Let's see ... Thirty, thirty-five weeks of mowing ... Twenty tugs per mow ... That means more than 600 tugs per season on the starter cord.

I know they can replace hips and knees, but what about shoulders and elbows?

Maybe the time has come to think of low maintenance gardening. Here's a brochure which promises that heavy toil is not necessary to create an attractive garden. All that's needed is careful planning.Weed-smothering ground cover plants don't take much looking after, says the brochure.

Some trees and shrubs are trouble-free and never need pruning. Decking and paving are easier to maintain than a lawn.

Hold on though. Installing decking will involve hammering and sawing. Another high risk for me to become a thumbless wonder. Probably wiser to leave the garden as it is and trust that my shoulder will survive a 35-round contest with the lusty grass.

Ah, here's a second brochure containing my idea of the perfect piece of garden equipment. A steamer chair. A luxury deck-chair identical to those in which the first-class passengers once relaxed on Tran-Atlantic liners. Yes, tackle the grass, then slump into the steamer while my wife digs and weeds the borders. She's the gardener.

I'm an admirer of gardens. There's enormous satisfaction in slumping in arm- or deck-chair to watch an expert demonstrate how to tame and master the soil.

Oh the pleasure of seeing the experts in BBC gardening programmes getting his hands mucky. Like the majority of Gardeners' World viewers though I haven't the least desire to emulate the professionals.

Gardens are glorious outdoor rooms in which to lounge and relax. But the pleasure is clouded by the labour and mystery involved in looking after them. All those plants with strange Latin names. All the complexities of ensuring that they grow and thrive.

I read that modern-minded gardeners are now dosing certain plants with aspirin. Scientists at the University of Ghent in Belgium discovered that some plants, while infected by a virus, produce salicyclic acid. (I'd never heard of it either.) This circulates around the plant to protect it from the virus.

Forward-thinking gardeners now bury an aspirin tablet (salicyclic acid) beneath irises when bedding them out.

What do you know? Plants with headaches.

The other morning I was quietly munching breakfast cornflakes, contemplating the serious matters of life. What's for lunch? Will Huddersfield Town win on Saturday? Suddenly my wife was at my elbow, bearing a plant in a bowl which she had brought in from the kitchen. "Look here,"" she said "this already has four flowers on it."

I was picturing Andy Booth heading home a brilliant goal for Town, so I didn't catch the name of the plant. "Did you say hyena?" I demanded, shying away, imagining flesh-eating plants from the Amazonian jungle.

"Hoya," said Joyce patiently. "H-O-Y-A. These flowers are lovely, but after dark the plant starts to stink. It smells of cat pee so I put it in the garage overnight."

Good grief!

There's more to horticulture than I ever imagined.


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