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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

Gardeners' World

George returned to where I was sitting in the bar of the Dog and Duck, and placed two further pints of bitter on the table.

He sat down and took a sip of his pint. ‘There was something else I wanted to talk to you about, Swan,’ he said, cautiously.

‘What was that?’ I asked.

‘I know that you’re not keen on gardening clubs, but the committee has asked me to try to persuade you to go along for an interview at the village horticultural society.’

‘I enjoy gardening,’ I replied, ‘but you know that I view the hobby as a solo leisure activity. I don’t particularly want to talk about it at meetings, and you know what I think of the way that horticultural shows, even the local one, turn what should be a relaxing hobby into a cut-throat competitive sport.’

‘I know, I know,’ George agreed. ‘All I’m asking is that you go along for an interview and make a final decision after that.’

‘An interview is an odd thing in itself,’ I reflected. ‘Most types of leisure clubs just welcome new attendees and make membership pretty much a formality for anyone who then wants to join. This recent national trend for gardening groups to interview prospective members, makes them seem more like secret societies.’

‘Just give the interview a try,’ George implored.

‘OK,’ I agreed, to appease my old friend, ‘but I can assure you that it will be a complete waste of time.’


On the following Tuesday, as I walked towards the shed, on the site of the village allotments, that had been designated as headquarters for the horticultural society, I was regretting that I had given-in to George’s plea.

There was no way I could join any gardening society. The reasons I had repeated to George were absolutely true, but I also had a darker secret that would preclude me from any agronomical fraternity: In public, I enthusiastically expounded the virtues of organic, eco-friendly, sustainable gardening. To do otherwise in modern, politically correct, British society would result in at least ostracism, probably hate-mail and possibly lynching by the eco-mafia. In fact, I had become quite good at advising on organic pest control and techniques for producing home-grown manures and fertilisers that were beneficial to the environment.

The reality was, however, that it was all lies. I had tried all that politically correct, green nonsense, but it simply did not work. My very successful and much admired flowers, fruit and vegetables had been raised with the assistance of slug pellets, various toxic herbicides and pesticides, and liberal quantities of synthetic fertilizers.

If I joined any gardening society, I could never sustain such a subterfuge.

‘Thanks for coming to this interview, Swan,’ said Harry Roberts, Chair of the horticultural society, as we sat down in the allotment shed.

‘I feel a bit of a fraud, actually, Harry,’ I said. ‘George persuaded me to come along here after five pints of Fuggle’s Best Bitter at the Dog and Duck. You know me; there’s no way I’d fit-in at the club.’

‘We know the truth, Swan,’ said Harry, starkly.

We both sat in silence for a few moments.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

‘We know that you don’t garden organically – in fact, quite the opposite.’

‘I don’t understand,’ I replied, defensively. ‘If you already know that I sometimes don’t operate in a biologically sustainable way, why ask me to an interview for membership of the society?’

‘Because you’re just the kind of gardener we need,’ Harry answered. He noticed the bewildered look on my face. ‘You’re assuming that we really believe all that organic, sustainable crap that we go on about. You and I both know that everyone has to spout that kind of bollocks these days. We both also know that organic, eco-friendly gardening is like doing it with your eyes shut and both hands tied behind your back: very little grows, and those few plants that somehow struggle to survive get eaten by slugs, snails, aphids and anything else that blows past on the wind. If that doesn’t finish them off then the last sickly shoots get struck down with a myriad of diseases.’

I was amazed. ‘You know, Harry,’ I gasped, ‘I never suspected that the horticultural society had that kind of philosophy. I thought I was the only one who’d given up on bio-sustainability. Although I must admit that I’d always been impressed by what you and your other members grew, and I’d wondered how the Hell you all did it.’

‘That’s why gardening clubs, nationwide, are now mostly for members only,’ Harry continued. ‘Members have to take a solemn oath, based on Masonic rites, never to reveal who supplies the DDT, Agent Orange and so forth - or even that they use them.’ Harry gave me a conspiratorial wink. ‘Will you join us, now?’

‘Did you say you can get supplies of DDT?’ I asked. ‘You can’t beat that stuff.’

‘There’s half a ton of it in Eric’s garage.’ Harry confirmed. ‘In return, we were hoping you could contribute supplies of that special soil you use.’

‘Ah, you mean the Chernobyl topsoil,’ I said. ‘Yes, there’s an old Russian Friend of mine who ships it as organic fertiliser. I could get the club as much as you want.’

‘The radioactivity seems to cause plants to grow much bigger, doesn’t it?’ Harry queried.

‘Yes, and it kills slugs and other pests,’ I confirmed. ‘For security and safety, you have to apply it after dark while wearing a radiation suit, but it causes the soil to give-off an iridescent glow, so you can see what you’re doing, even on the darkest nights.’

Harry smiled. ‘Have you changed your mind about joining the society?’

‘Well, yes,’ I said. ‘I’d be very pleased to apply, after all.’

‘Excellent,’ Harry responded. ‘And we’d be delighted to accept you as a member.’