OK UK?: A Great English Gardener...

Lord So and So, not a gardener...
Lord So and So, not a gardener...

The Gardener

My dear mother is as honest as the day is long. The idea of her doing something against the rules, let alone, against the law, is not credible. It is completely unbelievable. Just not going to happen.

OK, so there was that one time she was really angry and drove way over the speed limit, but, like many of her generation, doing the right thing is just what one does.

Except, it seems, when it comes to gardens...

For as long as I can remember my mother's world has been punctuated by the seasons in her garden. Forty years of fighting Essex clay, and consequently beating it into submission, has yielded a garden that is her pride and joy. In a space no larger than an acre, she has nurtured mature oaks into park-like vistas and an herbaceous border that is an ever-changing riot of color from early spring into the dying days of autumn.

Drought, not a problem you would immediately connect with rural England, is countered by stored rain and bath water, and hundreds of trips with the watering can. Frost, the arch-enemy, met by the careful use of a greenhouse, movable pots, and mulch.

Hard work and passion combine to make sure nothing prevents the garden from blooming into a showcase, including being eighty and having a trick hip.

But there is a dark side...

My mother loves to visit stately homes, or more accurately the gardens of stately homes.

So? you ask.

Well, she visits with a little bag of tricks nestled deep inside her handbag. It all looks fairly innocent to the untrained eye, but the Ziploc bags, damp paper towels and the devilishly sharp little scissors, are there for a seriously nefarious purpose.

The taking of cuttings...

Her garden is full of plants that started their life somewhere else. If pressed, my mother can identify not only the genus and order of her plants, but the famous garden they came from.

That one there, Sandringham, this one from Lord So and So's place, this one from the Chelsea flower show...

No upper-class tree, bush, or perennial, is safe. You can imagine my surprise as a young boy, when my mother, the epitome of correctness, would surreptitiously step into the bushes with her scissors at the ready, returning, a little flushed, with her prize; a small twig or leaf, cut at a precise angle. I would be cashiered into criminal service as the handbag holder, as ever so delicately; the prize would be wrapped in the damp paper and zipped closed in the bag with a good helping of air.

The National Trust, for one, had no idea how much their trust was being abused.

Of course being a boy, and thus a natural pain in the rear, I pointed out to my mother that this was a crime. She would, rather awkwardly, justify it as a victimless crime. The original plant was unharmed by the correctly taken cutting, and in any case, "no one would notice".

The mixed message was something I struggled with after I got busted for "borrowing" some sweets from the local tuck-shop. Seriously, I don't think anyone noticed. Still, I got a good smack and had to go back to the shop and apologize and pay the man with my meager pocket money...

Turns out that my mother is not alone. With England being heavily populated by ladies of a certain age, and their number one hobby being gardening, they descend on the more famous gardens like a plague of grey-haired locusts. The "pros" like my mother do little damage, and it is considered a point of pride for the staff to have produced a copy-worthy specimen, but of late, some idiot amateurs have entered the fray. Stupid and unprepared, they rip at the plants with their bare hands and walk out with a stupid grin, giant clumps of soil, and entire branches.

On days where gardens are open to the public, the dark uniforms of security guards have been seen, and straying off the path is now met with a loud “Oi you there”, striking fear into the intrepid plant hunters.

Now plant theft is a very real problem, and one such incident explains my mother’s one lapse with the speeding thing.

Many years ago, my mother had planted some small azalea bushes in the front garden of her house, bordering the pavement. After several years they had become magnificent specimens, deep green leaves and an absolute riot of red and pink blossoms.

And apparently very coveted…

One night, hearing a strange noise and men’s voices, my mother woke up, sensing that her plants were in danger. Dressed only in her nightgown, she rushed out into the darkness, to find a couple of men digging up her prized azaleas. The men, knowing they were rumbled, left their spades and one as yet unstolen bush, got into their little truck and drove off in a squeal of protesting tires. Without a backward glance, mother went back to the house, grabbed her car keys and drove off in hot pursuit of the plant thieves, her little mini driving like it never had before.

What was going though her mind, only she knew, but with no concern for her own safety, she raced until she saw the lights of a car driving at great speed. Driving at break-neck speed herself, she followed the taillights of the criminals. When the lights sped up, so did she, when they skittered off down a side road, she was right there behind them. There was no escaping the wronged plant owner, though what she planned to do when she confronted by two thieves was unclear.

Evasion was obviously futile, so the car eventually pulled to the side of the road and stopped. Whereupon a very angry/frightened man got out. Not a plant thief, it turns out, but a scoundrel out with someone else's wife. He thought my mother was the avenging husband, chasing him down to his deserved doom. His lady friend was a wreck. His evening was wrecked. My mother lost her prize azaleas. However, she had a terrific story to tell at the next flower show committee meeting...

And I knew that if I were ever kidnapped, my mom would break the speed limit to rescue me...

Dear Hub Reader

If you enjoy this hub, please check out my book,

Homo Domesticus; A Life Interrupted By Housework,

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Comments 15 comments

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona


I love your momma!

ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author


She is one incredible lady.

Drives me nuts at times, but 6000 miles is a tough bridge to cross.

Thanks as always for reading (and responding at lightening speed!)


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

Hi Chris, there's nothing more intimidating than an angry Granny. I love stately homes, but hate gardening. Nicking cuttings is well down on the crime list these days, but if she did cop it, the prison garden would no doubt flourish. My Gran used to say. "I'll jowel your heads through the wall in a minute". An unpleasant prospect and a threat difficult to actually carry out, with solid plastered walls. Cheers mate for your cutting-edge story.

sueroy333 profile image

sueroy333 5 years ago from Indiana

I've always loved reading about English gardens, I had no idea how fierce the gardeners could be.

Your mom should be the poster lady for the english gardener- and the english Don't-Mess-With-Me Mom!

I loved this story!!

RIP the azaleas.

ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author


This ended up being a tribute to my Mom - which she will never see due to her adamantly refusing to have "any of that internet" in her house, as she is not quite sure where she would put it...

I'd not heard the term "jowel" before - A midlands term?


ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author


"Yeah" for interesting moms...

She does however raise my blood presure whenever we are together as everything in the world is my fault...

For someone born in Germany she is quinitestially English - I think that is my Dad's influence...


sueroy333 profile image

sueroy333 5 years ago from Indiana

Chris- Are you telling me that the current economic crisis is NOT your fault? I was talking to your mom the other day, and she assured me it was. She also said she had grounded you for a month, and when you finished with your grounding you were going to "Clean up the mess you made". She was pretty emphatic.

I'm a little unsettled if she was wrong.

She also said it was your fault monkey pee made the computer blow up...... hmmmm

Hey... and who's fault is it your hubscore is up to 98? I'll bet your mom's to blame for that one!

ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author


This was what I was afraid of...My mother getting involved.

I know the whole economic thing is my fault, it was very carelss of me to lose my job and I'm sorry. If you'll let me have another one I promise to look after it better.

I also know better than to pee willy nilly (funnier if you think of the English version of willy...)

And I'm a little baffled by the hubscore thing - Stan is already talking about not following me - nothing has changed and I've got no mega hubscores anywhere (80's tops)

I think they are lulling me into a sense of "how cool am I" and then they'll drop me into the low fifties. (Stan will hurt himself on his damn laughing floor)

When I crash and burn you will once again become my only follower, well plus AttHum, but he's an Aussie, and AustinStar will come to laugh at the whole mess.

Insecure? Moi?


It's my mother's fault...


sueroy333 profile image

sueroy333 5 years ago from Indiana

Chris- I have a short attention span, so I have no idea what you said except "pee willy nilly"... I'm still laughing at that one. Hold on, I'll read the rest.... nope, I can't get past the peeing willy....nilly..... I think there was something about you being cool- who ISN'T cool when they're peeing willy nilly?

ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author


Maybe there is a future out there for me as a translator of your Daily Wierds into English, English...

Nah, a fart's a fart in any language

Willy (purely gratuitous)


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore

Hahaha...it's my philosophy that taking cuttings is perfectly legitimate and morally sound, especially those from old stately homes. I call it *plant sharing and preservation*.

Are you sure your mother would have broken the speed limit to rescue you? After all, you're not an azalea..

ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author

Oh Jane,

Your little secret is out. Don't worry, both my readers are discrete, so you are probably safe.

I'd like to expand on your idea and try a little "asset sharing and preservation" with a bank or two, just as a hobby you understand.

As to my mother, I'd like to think I'd trump a plant or two, but you may have a point :)


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 5 years ago from US

Great story, my mom didn't drive or I could imagine she would have done the same. She also had this superstition and anytime someone would give her a cutting or plant she would say no, turn your back and let me steal it, being it would grow if stolen and not if given...I never did understand that because she was no thief and this was not really stealing. Strange things sometimes, parents.

ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author


Your comment reminds me that there were all kinds of superstitions connected with gardening - I need to call my mom and get the details - might make for a fun hub!

Thanks for reading and commenting,


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 5 years ago from US

Please do, will peobably bring back some memories for me too.


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