Confessions of a garden grump

IF you have a wonderful collection of pictures, you do not necessarily take it for granted that your visitors will want to trail around the house looking at them. Possibly they will, but equally possibly they may wish to sit and talk about their relatives or where best to buy a collapsible golf bag. As far as one knows, hosts, on such occasions, do not force their guests to go and gape at their Romneys. Yet it seems the moment you have a magnificent collection of azaleas, you instinctively know that your guests will die unless they see them at once. Like so many other people who are obsessed, gardeners labor under the impression that every man, woman, and child in the world is as interested as they are in viburnums.

There is a sort of childlike eagerness, an innocent quality about them that prevents potential victims from being rude, and when the assumption ``I'm sure you'd like to see the garden'' is voiced, we know there is no alternative. We are simply expected to walk out of the French window and say, ``Ah!''

It is not that we do not love gardens. They are frequently full of roses and lilies and often smell divine. It is the presupposition that we shall inevitably want to enter them that irks. We would like to be asked; to be invited into them.

People who own horses and people who run farms also like to show them off (true, this is largely because they don't know what to do with their guests on Sunday afternoons), but their approach is from an entirely different angle. Visitors are usually offered a chance to refuse the invitation if they feel so inclined. ``We've got to run down to the farm,'' your hosts say, ``but we don't expect you to come, as pigs aren't very interesting, are they?'' Put that way, of course they are. ``I've just got to drive the cows into another field - be back soon!'' spurs an immediate desire to go and help.

Only gardeners allow no loophole for the lazy visitor, since they cannot conceive of anybody not being interested in Meconopsis betonicifolia. As far as one can judge, everybody who has a garden is a ``keen gardener.'' Plants have a way of twining their roots about the souls of their planters, a way of pollinating their minds so as to leave scant room for anything else.

There are no apathetic gardeners: All are dead keen. So they cannot believe that anybody they know, or even the friend of a friend they don't know, would prefer to sit on the terrace staring into space rather than totter slowly, step by tiny step, from one beloved, cherished, carefully nursed plant to the next.

And we are much too nice to tell them.

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