19 APRIL 1997, Page 52


I had to have her

James Delingpole

Ican't remember how many times a minute men are supposed to think of sex, but, whatever it is, I fear I have a similar problem with my garden. As I venture fur- ther into my thirties, I am becoming a man obsessed.

Sometimes it gets so bad, I can't concen- trate on my work. All too often, I find myself abandoning my word processor and treading gingerly across my newly laid lawn to see how the girls in my 50-ft harem have fared since my last visit. (Which, like as not, took place about half an hour before.) My pride and joy are my Florida sieboldii (one Alba plena, one Bicolor). As fellow sufferers will be aware, these are quite the coolest, sexiest babes in the clematis world. Total bitches, though: high maintenance, moody, hyper-sensitive — they have to be treated right before they deign to reward you with their pretty, pale-green flowers come July.

Luckily they can't read, so they won't realise that a couple of weekends ago I was unfaithful to them. Leafing through one of my favourite porn mags — the RHS Ency- clopaedia of Plants and Flowers — I spotted this drop-dead gorgeous number with red, waxy flowers. Gravetye Beauty, she was called, and I just had to have her. She was pretty elusive, but eventually I found her in a high-class Somerset brothel called Had- spen House. What with the rising sap and all, I couldn't resist picking up one of her dainty friends — Viticella alba luxurians as well.

Sorry — yet again I've forgotten that this is meant to be a television column, so I'd better move swiftly on to some of the red- hot gardening programmes I've been watching this week. We'll start with Chan- nel 5's The Great Garden Game (Wednes- day).

In pornographic terms, this is the televi- sual equivalent of 'reader's wives' — alter- nately amusing and toe-curling, cheap, cheerful and amateurish. It's filmed at posh country estates on what I assume is one of those handicams that a BBC friend warned me the other day are becoming increasingly the norm as television plunges ever further down-market. The presenters — Clare, a nice woman in desperate need of sartorial advice, and Paul, an exceedingly camp David Gower lookalike — urge two teams of jolly proles to complete gardening-relat- ed tasks within a time limit.

This week's challenge was to replace a grass path between two rose beds with a gravel one. It was actually very informative. If I didn't believe it was the duty of the wealthy man to give employment to the artisan, I think I'd now be able to repeat the process at home.

As the programme recognised, there are only so many shots of sweaty blokes heav- ing lumps of turf one can take. So the rest was padded out with footage of Clare's tour round the stately gardens. We saw a covetable Magnolia grandiflora and some fine peaches growing up the sort of aged brick wall which I fancy owning myself when I'm rich and famous. 'I imagine the family like to keep the peaches to them- selves,' ventured Clare, hopefully, to the head gardener. 'They do,' he said, meanly.

Clare seemed to know her stuff, dispens- ing useful tips en route. My only quibble is that she expressed doubt at the notion that when planting rose bushes in beds previ- ously occupied by other roses, one must be sure to change the soil. But I can vouch that this is true, having seen the evidence for myself in the magnificent Welsh gar- dens of the former RHS president Robin Herbert (see how rarefied are the horticul- tural circles in which I move!). Unfortunately, I came too late to garden- ing to catch Gardeners' World (BBC 2, Fri- day) in its Geoff Hamilton era though like half the world I was bewitched by his lyri- cal, swansong series Paradise Gardens. Alan Titchmarsh makes a pleasant enough suc- cessor, once you stop being distracted by his huge nose, bad jokes and high-pitched voice. I prefer Stephen Lacey, though. But that's partly because, besides being more picturesque and plummy, he's the man who advised me to buy those special clematis I mentioned earlier. As for Gay Search — I just can't get over the name. It reminds me of the time I went cruising on Castro Street with a louche American friend.

Because Gardeners' World is so topical it's all put together at the very last minute, and I only managed to see the segment of this week's edition where Gay went to Columbia Road flower market. Since it's right near where I live, I'm an expert in this field. Here's some advice that Gay didn't give: don't buy your bulbs there. The black Queen of the Night tulips I bought last year came out a hideous sherbet pink.

If GW is middle-market porn — Pent- house to The Great Garden Game's Hustler — I suppose The Lost Gardens of Heligan (Channel 4, Friday) must be the sort of upmarket erotica that 'A Gentleman' used to write in the 19th century. It's all very sensitively done — tastefully filmed, sweet- ly narrated and so — but it doesn't half go on. However did they manage to make it last six whole episodes?