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September 2002 Blether:
2002 Patrick Vickery

'The Half-Man, Half-Garden Blether'

'Blether' is a Scottish word meaning a good chat (a good blether), often a long and lazy relaxed chat at that, and sometimes over a dram or two of whisky!

e-mail Patrick at: aldieburnplants@aol.com

Patrick Vickery lives in the Scottish Highlands with his wife, three children, two dogs, two goats and an assortment of smaller animals. They live in a two acre wood in a wonderful part of the world.

Patrick runs a small Garden Nursery (part-time), is a Garden Writer (part-time) with a particular interest in the humourous side of things (especially the things that go wrong!), and works part-time as a Special Needs Teacher.

Patrick's first gardening book  In Pursuit Of Perennial Profit - The Pot Of Gold At The Bottom Of The Garden. ISBN: 186163148 has recently been published. A 'how-to' book - a book that shows how to make your garden productive in a variety of ways, for both expert and gardening novice alike, at minimum cost and in an innovative and self-financing way, using a raised bed system of propagation, and concentrating primarily on hardy perennial plants that can be raised and grown outdoors without the aid of a polytunnel or greenhouse.

Available direct from the Publisher at: Capall Bann Publishing, UK; from bookshops; or from Amazon.co.uk via the Internet.

     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.

    Mr Slayter had a remarkably simple and effective device for eliminating
weeds: the garden hoe. He used this for fifteen minutes weekly, and not just
in the areas where weeds were clearly visible, oh no, but in weed-free areas
too.   As a result, weeds were a rare occurrence whenever he was around. The
moral of the tale: do your weeding before the weeds appear!

     Mr Slayter was born, brought up and lived his life as a gardening man in
Fordingbridge, Hampshire, England.
     I knew him well.

(copy write Patrick Vickery 2002)