Saturday, 21 December 2013


More Car Problems
Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' - good for containers
      At one time I used to play five-a-side football every Friday night with a group of over forties. We would go for a drink afterwards and, on this particular night, I was driving home after a couple of pints of bitter shandy. The car I had then was a Talbot Horizon. I'd not long since bought it and was experiencing a number of problems: every time I slowed down you could hear liquid sloshing forward. At first I put this down to fuel in the petrol tank, although I'd never actually heard a petrol tank before. Eventually I narrowed it down to the door. It was full of water - in fact the whole car leaked like a sieve - when I'd pointed out to the bloke who was selling it to me that the floor was wet he said this was due to it just having been valeted. My wife was not impressed by this latest example of my gullibility and, when she'd commented about the tidal sounds coming from the door, I hadn't helped by humorously suggesting we put a glass front on it and introduce a few goldfish (she acidly pointed out that this obviously wouldn't have worked because they'd bump their heads each time I put the brakes on).

      Another problem was an anomaly with the heater and this gradually became apparent as I drove home that night: the windows began to mist up and the car was filling with steam. I thought I'd driven into fog, and was following the white line along the middle of the road in a wavering, slow fashion when I sensed a set of headlights directly behind me. They were blinding and reminded me of that scene in 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' when an alien craft creates the same impression. However, the lights didn't suddenly disappear in an upward direction, they overtook me and added a blue element to the illumination. Pulling in front, a sign appeared on the back of the vehicle showing the instruction 'Stop Police'. I didn't really have any inclination to stop any police, but nevertheless took the hint. As the policeman climbed out and walked towards me I wound down the window and stuck my head out, discovering to my surprise that it was a beautiful, clear night. The copper's footsteps wavered as a cloud of steam billowed out of the window, haloing my sauna'd face. My hair was plastered down and I suspect I was bright red.

      "Are you aware sir that you were proceeding along the centre of the road in an erratic manner?" he said sternly.

      At this point my stomach was churning. I hadn't actually done anything wrong, apart from not murdering the bloke who sold me the car but, as always when confronted by the police, I felt guilty. I was visualising him giving me a breath test and the machine giving a false reading: I'd be banned from driving and end up travelling twelve miles to work on my bike every day. These and other thoughts were going through my mind as I made my defence in a shaky voice:

      "Having a bit of a problem with my heater, officer", at the same time another cloud of steam obliterated him from view.

      "Have we had a little drink, sir", he said in an uncertain voice. Why do they always say 'we'? How the hell do I know if he's had a drink? I told him about my shandies and pointed out my difficulty with the windscreen misting up.

      "I need to consult my colleague on this", he said. With that he wandered back to his fellow officer and entered into a conversation which included something about 'a bloody mobile Turkish  bath' and ended when the other man seemed to collapse on the bonnet of their car. My man stood with his back to me and I could see his whole body shaking as though he were crying. Then he came back and informed me that they weren't going to breathalyse me. He did point out in a shaky voice that to drink any alcohol at all was not a desirable thing when driving. His face was sort of writhing as he told me this. Anyway, I drove off in tremendous relief. The last I saw of them, they were both collapsed on their bonnet. Perhaps it was food poisoning.

      All this talk of fog brings me to think of Yorkshire fog (Holcus lanatus), a weed grass native to the U.K. and invasive in the United States and Australia. Although this is certainly not a plant to be introduced to the garden, many other grasses and sedges are useful because different species can provide height, colour and flower interest in their own ways.
Miscanthus sinensis in winter
      Pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) was once to be seen in every garden but it fell from grace partly due to size (too big for the smaller garden) and partly because of this daft fashion thing that pervades gardening ('oh my dear, that horrible thing is so yesterday'). However there are many less bombastic grasses on the scene and it is worth having a closer look at some of them:
Stipa gigantea (foreground) in The Dry Garden, Hyde Hall
      Miscanthus sinensis, reaching its plumes to about 8ft in height, is a good option for summer and winter: in summer its upright habit provides good contrast with lower growing plants and in winter the plumes provide stately decoration, especially with the sun behind them. Stipa gigantea has similar advantages although its delicate flower structure gives a different aesthetic.
Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' contrasting with Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

      Hakenchloa macra 'Aureola' is excellent displayed in a large container but also provides exciting contrast when planted with Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'. The Hakenchloa dies back in winter while the Ophiopogon soldiers on. The latter is not actually a grass but, maybe surprisingly, a member of the lily family. However it behaves enough like a grass to often be mistaken for one.

      And that's it. All it remains is for me to wish my readers a happy Christmas.

      Both of you.


  1. thanks for all your posts and sharing of anecdotes, hope you have a warm and peaceful Christmas and good health in 2014

    1. Thanks,Christine. All the best to you and yours - have a lovely time.