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GARDENING PEOPLE: DIG IN FOR A BLAST FROM THE PAST.

EVERY garden should have a theme, or even several of them. A bit of water here, a touch of the jungle there, an adventure area, a wildflower patch. So what about injecting a touch of the past?

The Victorians used to have three main themes - smell, sight and superstition - and created some of the best gardens ever seen.

So when you plan your garden for this summer - and you should be doing so right now - take a tip from the past. Start with smell. Old favourites such as gillyflowers (stocks), hyacinths and jasmine have for years been grown mainly for their heady aromas and together in a border will also provide masses of colour.

There is nothing better than sitting near them on a grassy area on a summer's day, just letting your mind wander.

You should also grow some basil, that most fragrant of all herbs, originally grown as a love charm. It's the most perfect companion to tomatoes and grows happily in a pot alongside them.

When it comes to sight, the Victorians liked plenty of colour, but also areas of peace and tranquillity. In particular, they loved the elegant oak trees. A bit big for the average garden you might think, but there are forms like the very narrow variety of the durmast oak (Quercus petraea Columna), and the common oak (Q. robur Fastigiata) which are much more suitable.

Those Victorians were also a very superstitious lot. Holly was always planted as a protection against evil, along with ivy on the house walls. Rowan or mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) housed friendly spirits, while Bay (Laurus nobilis) was trusted to ward off floods and lightning.

The superstitious still think there are plants, perfectly safe in the garden, whose flowers bring evil with them when brought into the house.

Marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris), quite one of the loveliest flowers for the edge of a pond, should not be brought into the house before May. But it is extremely good luck to have them in a vase on the outside of a windowsill in April.

The devil was always slipping indoors in bunches of flowers. Foxgloves in particular scared people in the past, along with plum and cherry blossom appearing out of season.

But help is always at hand. Red valerian (Centranthus ruber), which also has a white form, is a beautiful perennial and is said to keep witches off your patch.

It's well worth growing whatever your beliefs - another magical touch of days gone by.

JOBS FOR THE WEEK

SOW sweet peas under glass if you didn't do so in autumn.

PLANT Jerusalem artichoke tubers outside.

UNDER glass, but with heat, sow antirrhinum, petunia, begonia, impatiens, necotiana, Livingstone daisy and other half-hardy annuals.

COMPLETE planting of all bare-rooted shrubs and trees if the ground is suitable.

Q A

QI'M very tempted to take a "flyer" and sow some carrot, parsnip, pea and spinach seed outside. Is it far too early?

A THIS is the annual gardeners' dilemma - and there's no real answer. If the soil is not wet, frozen or too heavy, and the weather is - and stays - mild, you may be all right. But you'd be chancing it. I would definitely hang on for two or three weeks because harvesting time won't be all that much different anyway.

Q I'VE just moved into a brand-new house and the garden is a mess of rubble and sand, with lumps of clay and straggly old bushes. I'd love a nice garden - but where the heck do I start?

A DON'T be in a hurry. You must cultivate the soil and feed it, introducing top soil and manure. In the first year, I'd clear the lot and put the whole garden down to grass. You will then have a "canvas" on which to "paint" a picture, planning everything carefully. In the meantime, you can content yourself with structural work and use baskets, pots and containers to give colour.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Lyte, Charles
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Feb 20, 2000
Words:657
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