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There’s little else in gardening that so divides opinion as the hanging basket. Chic ladies, who would happily encourage a windowbox on their property, practically froth at the mouth when confronted with baskets blooming with begonias. Even if the baskets are made of willow.
You can tell a good pub by the quality of its hanging baskets; the same is true of railway stations. Tumbling petunias and cascades of lobelia indicate friendly, caring service; brown ivy – or worse, plastic – and beware: your experience may not be a happy one.
Is it baskets’ association with public houses and public transport – not private stately homes – that turns mild-mannered folk into raging style obsessives? Could it be that we prefer our gardens influenced by the landed gentry, and when it comes to gardening, some people are inclined to get a bit snobbish?
Alan Titchmarsh says hanging baskets are "unnatural"; he argues that flowers should grow from the ground, not seven feet in the air. Tell that to the orchids and bromeliads. They find their natural home high in the treetops, nestling in the crook of a branch. Anyway, all gardening is unnatural. Which of us only cultivates native plants, without any weeding or replanting? (The very few people who do have gardens that look distinctly weedy.)
If you have a small garden (or no garden at all) hanging baskets provide valuable extra growing space. And the squirrels, slugs and snails can’t get at them as easily.
Perhaps it’s the thought of exuberant multicoloured summer bedding that’s putting you off the charms of the basket. Try thinking about them in another way - as a circular windowbox, or a flying patio pot.
Mix herbs, strawberries and dwarf tomatoes for a tasty summer treat. Mingle ferns and evergreen foliage plants in an all-green basket. Make a modern display of succulents and alpines – they’ll get extra warmth and protection from the wall, and you can give them the free-draining soil they need. Wire two baskets together rim-to-rim, and plant them full of ivy for instant topiary ball.
Topiary? That should please even the most upmarket of gardeners.