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Just cal it my field of dreams.

When it comes to gardening, I'm just a crazy optimist

Take the past 10 days, for instance.

I've spent several back-breaking hours each day planting 200 small yew trees to back the borders in a new area of garden we're making.

The soil, not yet improved, is rotten, full of roots and stones and, in some places, so soggy that newly- dug holes fill with water.

Every now and then, I straighten my aching back and survey my handiwork.

Do I see thin lines of miserable two-foot-high hedging slips?

Not me! I see magnificent eight-foot-high yew hedges, as smoothly green as a snooker table.

They're solid enough to take the weight of a ladder, which I shall certainly need when I come to trim the magnificent pair of topiary peacocks which top the yew buttresses either side of the path.

The hedges are so dense that the arches leading from one enclosure to the next are green tunnels, so that walking through them is like coming through darkness into light.

The splendid hedges at Crathes Castle are my model.

Of course, they're several centuries old. But, hey, get a bit of muck spread this winter and give them a few good growing seasons and they'll be up in no time at all!

See what I mean? As soon as you start gardening, the old rose-tinted specs become permanent fixtures.

Never mind that it'll be 20 years before my little thin hedges look anything like the thick green walls of my dreams. I've planted them and, in my mind, I've already got a hedge.

The folk who market plants know about those optimistic tendencies.

You must have seen those labels which show spreading magnolia trees laden with waxy white flowers - they're invariably attached to miserable little sticks topped by two pairs of leaves.

Lured by the label, we load them into the boot of the car and bear them home in triumph.

The stick makes a pathetic amount of growth each year and takes a decade to produce a single flower.

But it doesn't matter, because in our imagination the scent of magnolia wafts across the garden from the majestic tree in the corner.

Okay, it didn't flower this year, BUT NEXT YEAR IT WILL!

BUT even I have to admit that my optimism verges on the certifiably barmy when it comes to one particular vice ...

I have a mad compulsion to raise tropical climbers from seed - and it drives Janet, my partner in the garden, up the wall.

It drives her mental that a large area of precious polytunnel space is taken up by my tropical treasures.

Give me a South African seed catalogue - or any description containing the magic words "rain forest climber" - and I'm away!

That's despite the fact I do not have a luxuriously-heated conservatory, or even a decent-sized greenhouse - and these plants grow seriously large!

But I'm convinced that by the time they've outgrown their pots, I shall somehow have acquired a conservatory at least the size of the Kibble Palace, complete with computerised heating system.

I wonder if there's a support group called "Impractical Plant-raisers Anonymous" for gardeners like me who just can't break the habit.

Of course, many gardeners take the opposite view - they just see the dark side of everything.

"I couldn't possibly grow that. My garden is far too cold/wet/dry."

Show them a flourishing containerised specimen and they instantly picture it in their garden, brown, lifeless and gnawed by rabbits.

And the funny thing is, plants that are expected to die frequently do just that, giving the moaners great satisfaction.

"I told you I'd never be able to grow it."

Still, I'm sure they enjoy their failures as much as I enjoy my successes and at least they never run out of planting space - a high mortality rate leaves plenty of room for more failures!

But my favourite garden optimist even left me speechless.

At the time, he owned a gaunt castle on a bleak and rainswept hillside just outside Hawick.

He announced: "I planted up all the walls with Bougainvillea ... and I just can't understand why it didn't come through the winter."

Now, that's what I call optimism!



The Tricyrtis, or toad lilies, are in flower now and their quiet, fresh beauty contrasts with the clashing colours of autumn.

They come from the open, damp woodlands of Japan and Korea, so the cool, peaty, Scottish conditions suit them perfectly.

Tricyrtis macropodia and Tricyrtis formosanum both throw up wiry stems topped by pale mauve flowers mottled with purple.

They don't seem particularly showy, but pop one into that shady patch where ferns flourish and, once it flowers, you will never want to be without it.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 27, 1997
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