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9:14am on Tuesday, 18th April, 2006:



I'm plant-illiterate. When it comes to the garden, I cut the grass and my wife does all the plants. She knows all their common names and all their latin names and what kind of soil they grow in and what conditions of light and shade they need — everything. I know only the commonest of common names (daffodil, rose, tulip, bluebell, magnolia etc.) and no Latin ones.

Yesterday, we went plant shopping, which is to say I drove us there then had to spend an hour and a half pushing around the trolley while my wife muttered foreign words and pointed enthusiastically or disapprovingly at identical-seeming twigs or sprawls of disorderly foliage. Yes, I too can be a pack mule...

Garden centres are generally organised by putting their plants together in groups (shrubs, trees, climbers, bedding, alpine and so on), then alphabetically by common or Latin name, depending on pure whim. This is good for people who are educated in the ways of gardening, but no good to the proudly ignorant such as I. I just want things that will look or smell good, hopefully while provide some competition (or at least cover) for the weeds.

If I ran a garden centre, I wouldn't bother with all this need-to-know-its-name stuff. I'd organise it purely pragmatically. Plants would still be grouped by their basic type, because even the gardening-unaware can distinguish a tree from a climber. However, within the groups I'd arrange them in order of "plant this now if you want it to perform in <month>". Plants which don't produce flowers but just have unusual leaves would be absent, because they're only of interest to people who see gardening as an art form. Also, I wouldn't label the plants with "prefers moist, slightly acidic soil in light shade", because I've no idea what the soil is like in my garden. Besides, "light shade" is an oxymoron. Instead, I'd have the labels say things like "grows where nettles grow" or "grows where dandelions grow", which are far simpler and get straight to the point.

I'd also provide golf carts with trailers for getting around. 90 minutes traipsing past 250 different kinds of roses while dragging a 70kg wannabe-wheelbarrow laden with foxgloves is not, I have found, one of life's great pleasures. No wonder I have a bad shoulder, it's all the slumping I have to do.

Referenced by Gardening for the Non-Gardener.

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).