Gardens Ablaze

A Gardening Blether
Monthly Column by Patrick Vickery
July, 2002

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A Half-Man, Half-Garden Blether

I remember Mr. Slayter well. He must have been about seventy if a day, rolled his own cigarettes, was never seen in public without a soft brimmed hat and rode a bicycle that was at least as old as himself.  He 'did' the garden weekly - Tuesdays if I recall - covering the 5 miles from 'his' to 'ours' on his bicycle, an Old Holborn dangling from his mouth and his trouser bottoms tied tightly with twine, a sort of do-it-yourself bicycle clip notion.  Years later, when I became interested in gardening myself and came across the ornamental grass 'Gardener's Garter' (Phalaris arundinacae 'Picta'), an evergreen perennial with broad white-striped leaves, I realized that this was how he tied his trouser legs, not with twine at all but with an invasive ornamental perennial.  A Gardener of the 'Old School', unlikely to frequent new-fangled Garden Centre places, he possessed the serenity and wisdom of one who knew what he was about. In essence: 'half-man half-garden'. Even in his youth, many years ago, I can still imagine him as being a 'half-man, half-garden' sort of person. And they certainly don't make them like that anymore, do they?

Now this brings me on to Mr. Sprats, who - in a similar vein - could be described as a 'half-man, half-ladder' sort of person on a bicycle, if you follow me.  Mr. Sprats (now there's a name to conjure up images of rustic simplicity from a by-gone era) was the man who mended the many windows we broke playing football in the garden.  We seemed to break them on a regular basis, you see, so this must have been before toughened glass was invented. "A superb pass from George Best, a cracking shot from Pele, tipped over the bar by Banks and bang goes the bathroom window."  (Parents can be very understanding, can't they?  "Was it an accident?......well accidents will happen......try not to do it again.")  Mr. Sprats would be telephoned and, if available, would come cycling recklessly up the High Street with a 14 foot extendible ladder balanced precariously on his shoulder and a pot of putty dangling from the handlebars.
 (Just imagine if that was to happen these days?)  It never crossed my mind at the time to ask him how the panes of glass reached our house, a fact that.  I would dearly love to know, for as the years go by this mystery becomes more intriguing. Did he carry them on his bike? Too late for an answer now, of course, because Mr. Sprats is no more, although fond memories of him - and also of Mr. Slayter - linger vividly on.

Now occasionally Mr. Sprats and Mr. Slayter would be in the garden together, one mending the windows, the other hoeing the flower beds, and both possibly muttering good-naturedly to each other about football, kids, weeds and the meaning of life. But at half-past three everything stopped for biscuits, tea and a cigarette.  Not much change there. The Council Workers have been digging up a nearby road recently and, at prescribed times, times known   universally to Council Workers, Carpenters, Brickies, Gardeners and JCB Drivers to mention but a few, everything still grinds to a halt for tea.  And quite right too.  Some traditions should last forever, shouldn't they? The only difference these days is the transport employed.  Instead of bicycles, it's vans.


(Copyright: Patrick Vickery)


A Tomato Blether - January, 2002

A Tree Blether - February, 2002

A Hare Blether - March, 2002

A Surreal Blether - April, 2002

A Slug Blether - May, 2002

A Goat Blether - June, 2002

A Blaze Blether - August, 2002

An Inanimate Object Blether - September, 2002

A Notable Quotable Blether - October, 2002

A Plant Blether - November, 2002

A Compost Blether - December, 2002

A Copper Beech Blether (or a chainsaw pruning!) - January, 2003

A Heron Blether - February, 2003

A Bergenia Blether - March, 2003

A Rose Blether - April, 2003

A Critter Blether - August, 2003

Blether Home


Patrick Vickery is a garden writer who lives in the Scottish Highlands.  He runs a small perennial plant nursery and has one book published to date: 'In Pursuit Of Perennial Profit - The Pot Of Gold At The Bottom Of The Garden' (Capall Bann Publishers. ISBN: 186163 1480), a 'How To' book about the propagation of hardy perennial plants in an environmentally friendly way, and how to make your garden productive in a variety of ways for both expert and gardening enthusiasts alike - at minimum cost and in an innovative and exciting way.  And - of course - how to sell the plants you grow (should you wish to) to raise money (not a fortune) for yourself or a particular charity or cause. 


Patrick is married with three children, lives in a two acre wood in a wonderful part of the world, uses a raised bed system of propagation and has two dogs, a cat and two goats. His second book - 'Gardening Tales - Blethers and Grunts' - a collection of anecdotal tales concentrating on the more humorous side of gardening (particularly the things that go wrong!) has recently been completed.


Patrick's book can be bought from an absolutely fascinating website full of gardening, herbal, mystical, and magical books that one would never find anywhere else.  The address is

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