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Occasionally the TV gardeners assure us that we can spare an acre or two to turn part of our estates into wildlife sanctuaries. We aren’t landed gentry, mate. If I set up a pond surrounded by wildflowers for frogs and dragonflies, that will fill my plot to the exclusion of all else. Others waffle about cutting beds to produce blossom for indoor vase arrangements, usually employing expensive accents that speak of vast private grounds at their disposal. They make me so cross I want to slap them hard enough, even Google won’t find them.
Albizia julibrissin (Persian silk tree)
Albizia julibrissin (Persian silk tree)

I realize that I am just as guilty, when I burble about the conservatory and feel that I must address the issue. I want to grow Crotons but lack a heated greenhouse or since my daughter moved out, a permanently steamy bathroom. What I need is a bottle garden. I have an old acid storage carboy, which has been collecting dust for years. I put it outside, to avoid having to clean it, whence it promptly filled with rainwater and weeds. How the squatters crowded through the narrow neck is a mystery to me but as Jeff Goldblum observed when pondering a Jurassic problem, life will find a way. I scrubbed it inside and out, rinsed gravel for drainage and used new sterile potting compost all dribbled down a long cardboard tube, since anything dirty or otherwise undesirable is going to be a bastard to evict.
Finished bottle garden
Finished bottle garden

Choose small specimens for planting, of a type that will not burst out of confinement within the month. Attila made me some tools attached to long bamboo sticks or bent metal poles. The crux is that the end of the handle protrudes above the opening of the container, should it be too limited to insert your hand, to retrieve anything dropped inside. Try to resist letting go of anything which will be difficult to recover, unless you are good at those fairground games with a grabbing claw for winning fluffy bunnies. An old spoon for digging and a cotton reel for firming in, are essential. A sponge for swiping around is a boon. Some tracts recommend a nail embedded in a cane, for stabbing stray leaves to remove them. I had one of these but my partner used it as his slug stick and now I don’t even want to look at it.
Lilium 'Eyeliner'
Lilium ‘Eyeliner’

When the plants are in place, trickle water down the inside, to wash stray soil off the glass. Don’t put in too much, since evaporation is unlikely to redress the trouble before everything dies in a soggy soup of decay. In order to keep moisture in and stop toddlers from adding toy dinosaurs, keys or credit cards, it’s wise to obtain a tightly fitting stopper, removable by a responsible adult in case of emergency. At my request, Attila lifted the entire edifice to move it to a place of perfect sunlight. Veins stood out on his forehead and a terrible twang came from the region of his trousers. There’s something fundamentally funny about the term groin strain, when applied to someone who’s playing it for laughs. Poor husband retired, clutching his person in a manner that would get him arrested if he did it in public. Please excuse me, I’m needed to apply first aid.

With my thanks to Sam, for the best insult I’ve seen this week.

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