The Half-Man, Half-Garden Blether

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 right 2002 Patrick Vickery)

Patrick Vickery runs a small garden nursery in the Scottish Highlands growing and selling hardy perennial plants. His first book was published in January 2002 by Capall Bann Publishers, UK: "In Pursuit Of Perennial Profit - The Pot Of Gold At The Bottom Of The Garden" (ISBN: 186163 1480)

A book about propagating and growing hardy perennial plants outdoors in an environmentally friendly way using an innovative raised bed system, about how to make your garden self-financing, and even how to sell surplus plants if you so wish.

The book is available via the internet from Amazon Books, from Capall Bann Publishers or from bookshops of course.

Capall Bann Publishers

Patrick's e-mail: