Saturday, 22 June 2013

Alstroemeria

High Drama
Alstroemeria hybrid


I was reminded of this story when we were talking to two theatrical friends a couple of nights ago: for some reason my wife and I had been given tickets for a production of Romanoff and Juliet which the Manchester University Drama Society were putting on. The tickets were pretty impressive - gold edged and actually bearing our names - but my memory is hazy as to how they came about. It must have been some sort of mistake, because I can remember no connection to the university at that time. However, they were free, so we were up for it and, as it was the university, we dressed in the style of students - wife in hippy style long dress and prominent C.N.D badge (it was the early seventies) and me in denim bomber jacket and jeans adorned with the oily stains and holes which were the fashion at the time. Not a lot changes.

When we entered the theatre, it was to be greeted by a bloke in dress suit who took our tickets, then bawled 'Mr and Mrs Steedman' to the waiting dignitaries, all similarly clad in evening dress and lined up to welcome the guests in the foyer. I held on tight to my wife's hand, because I could sense she was ready to do a runner, and we walked to our allotted seats in as dignified a manner as possible. We then took our place in the theatre, surrounded by an evening dress- clad audience. This was obviously going to be a performance to remember.

It was. We sat for an hour while an out-of tune orchestra deafened us from their strange situation at the side of the audience as we became educated in the art of gross over-acting. Then a moment of high drama came about and we began to enjoy ourselves: one of the characters, it may have been Romanoff, had strutted all over the stage for about five minutes, waving a pistol around and raving about how he was going to make his point with it. There was a short silence at the end of these ravings, during which an old lady apparently woke up.

"Oo, Ethel, e's got a gun!", she informed Ethel in a loud voice, presumably on the assumption that Ethel's hearing aid was turned off. The comment was audible to anyone in a three mile radius, including the gunman who turned away from the audience, feigning deep, meaningful thoughts which caused his shoulders to shake.

Soon after this, Romanoff stormed off through a door at the back of the stage, due to some development on the plot. He turned to make some parting comment, then disappeared through the door. There was something strange and unplanned about this departure however, because just before the door fully closed, Romanoff suddenly descended vertically and there was an accompanying crash. It seemed likely that someone had forgotten to put the steps at the other side of the door. This theory was strengthened a few minutes later when the heroin said 'hark - I hear Romanoff returning'. We all looked dutifully to the side of the stage she had indicated but nothing happened .

"Er, well I thought I heard him returning", she followed up with, to the huge enjoyment of the audience. She had obviously been mistaken because Romanoff still didn't appear. This led to an aimless wander about the stage as she hummed nervously and examined props intently as though they played a crucial part in the plot. This little sortie culminated with an almost pleading "surely I hear Romanoff returning now", which brought a guffaw from the audience and, at last, a response from Romanoff. He staggered on a changed man. Gone was the gay blade who had made a vertical departure from the stage, to be replaced by a limping wreck.

All of which leads me to say that it is the cock-ups that make amateur dramatics so entertaining to me and I think that most audiences share this perverse delight.
Early low growing flush of Alstroemeria flowers

Later, taller, flowers (far end of garden)

And when it comes to high drama in the garden, Alstroemeria (Peruvian lily) takes some beating. Closely related to lilies, they originated in grassland and mountain screes in South America and are named after a Swedish baron, Clas Alstromer, who collected many seeds on a trip to South Africa in the 18th century. They make excellent cut flowers and last in pristine condition for a few weeks. I find I they yield two flushes of flowers, the first being short stemmed while the later ones are produced on much longer growths. Removal of finished flowers is easy - simply pull them out and they slip easily from the base.

There's a bit of mythology about them not being hardy and this may have been true in the early days but some modern hybrids will tolerate down to minus 12degC ('Which' trials in Glasgow even recorded them surviving  at minus 15deg.C) However it is best to play safe and cover with a couple of inches of mulch in winter. Slugs are their main enemy.

Nectaroscordum siculum

A careful look will show show a rather unusual flower peeping above the Alstroemerias in the first picture. This is  bulbous plant related to the onion (crush a leaf and you get the message). It spreads freely and is much loved by flower arrangers because of the way the pendulous blooms, after pollination, form seed pods which stand stiffly upright. Like Amaryllis, the flowers are displayed on long stalks unadorned by leaves, so they are best seen rising above other plants which preserve dignity by shielding this nudity. This is what gardening is really all about - not just growing one plant efficiently, but displaying it with others in such a way as to increase its attraction.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae)

Hot Cars


Cornus sanguinea 'Winter Flame'

Question: how did I come to be standing watching my new car go up in flames, while my three year old son was at home two miles away, locked in the house by himself?

Answer: well, it all began when we went to look at a new car. We had searched far and wide before my wife saw it advertised in the local paper, at an address only a couple of miles away.

We had gone to look at it after work and had no option but to take all the children with us. Laura and Chris were six and eight respectively and Nick was the youngest, at three. We were in the two-car syndrome due to the fact that we both needed a vehicle for our work. My wife benefited from a low - interest loan from work but, as usual, I was in the position of getting something cheap and extremely second - hand. This one seemed a good car. I had test-driven it and everything seemed to work, so it was with a feeling of relief that I parted with the money and prepared to drive it home. My wife had gone ahead, taking the children with her, when we had made the decision to buy, leaving me to deal with the financial part. I had to get straight home now, because she was due to take the older two swimming while I looked after Nick.

Everything seemed to be going well for the first half mile, then I smelled smoke. I couldn't actually see any, so I put it down to the fact that the previous owners must have been smokers. I was impressed by the efficiency of the heater and contemplated the possibility of doing toast on it. However, I was somewhat less impressed when flames began to emerge from it. Apart from the disappointing realisation that it would burn toast, it seemed a good idea to get out fast. By this stage, a couple of oncoming motorists had flashed me and one seemed so excited that he bumped up onto the pavement and narrowly missed a lamp-post. As the car drew to a halt a great sheet of flame engulfed the bonnet and, after careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that now was the time to panic. Unfortunately, with the car being new to me, I had a bit of difficulty getting the seat belt undone. That saying about your life flashing before your eyes just before you die is not true. All that flashed in front of mine was the six hundred pounds I'd paid for this experience of a lifetime, and the jolly fun to be had when I told my wife our savings had literally gone up in smoke. At last I managed to get out and danced around for a few seconds before my brain got into gear, before rushing up the nearest drive, thinking to use the phone for help (this was long before mobiles). However, the house was in darkness and the people were out, so I tried the next door along and a man answered. It must have been a bit of a shock to be confronted by a babbling maniac with a smoke - blackened face but he invited me in, let me use the phone, then insisted I drink a large brandy.

I don't even like brandy but didn't like to hurt his feelings, so I swallowed it and rushed back to the scene of the fire. Flames were reaching about fifteen feet into the air and a large crowd had gathered. They were enjoying the show and cracking hilarious jokes along the lines of going home to get some potatoes to roast and "'oo's got the chestnuts?". I remember wishing I was one of them rather than me. I had paid the man all that money for the most expensive bonfire night ever.

"'Ere, stop shovin'", one of the punters said, as I pushed roughly between them. After all it was my car; the least I deserved was to be on the front row.

"'E's drunk", piped up another voice, probably referring to my brandy-laden breath, "e'll be for it when the cops get 'ere".

"Stand back, it'll blow up", came the comment of another sage and in seconds I was on my own, the rest of the audience having removed itself a fair distance down the road. I stayed where I was, doing my John Cleese dance in frustration.

Then the brigade turned up.

"Now then lad, what's up?".

I know he was probably trying to calm me down or something, but "what's up?" didn't really fit the occasion. By this time everyone north of the equator knew what was up. My bloody car was. He must have read something in my look, because he didn't say anything else and got on with playing an extinguisher on the flames inside the car.

"Careful, cock, it may blow up", came the voice of the sage, who had crept forward with the rest of the funseekers, gaining confidence from the reassuring presence of the experts.

"They don't blow up unless the tank's empty", said one of the firemen.

"One blew up in 'Dirty 'Arry' on telly last night", replied the slightly disappointed voice.

"How do we open the bonnet?", asked my "what's up?" friend. I had looked under the bonnet in a knowing way when I was buying the car, and ascertained that it had an engine, but beyond that I was at a bit of a loss. The man who had sold it to me had opened it.

 "Er.....",

Well, is it hinged at the front or the back?". Again, I couldn't remember. With this, a crowbar was produced and the bonnet forced right off. I nearly cried.

"Don't let 'im near it, came the voice of the people, referring to me, "'is breath'll catch fire an' incinerate the lot of us". There was a general laugh but, for the first time that evening, I went cold. What if the police were to turn up? They were bound to smell the brandy and I'd get the book thrown at me in the form of something like 'drunk in charge of an incinerator'.

Once the bonnet was off it only took seconds to control the blaze and the brigade went back to their card game or whatever it is they do between coming out to help me. Before they went though, 'What's Up' showed me how the fire had started. The electric wires running in a mass just under the windscreen had shorted, probably as a result of getting caught by the lid as the man put it down after showing me the engine.I was now  left gazing at a blackened hulk. 'Six hundred poundsworth of blackened hulk', I couldn't help thinking. It was almost dark and I was two miles from home without transport. 'Well', I thought, 'at least it can't get any worse'. Then it started raining.

The crowd had disappeared with the last of the flames; their job was to be entertained, not to help the entertainer. They would be in front of their tellies now, hoping for a plane crash or an earthquake to pep up the six-o-clock news. How can so many people disappear so quickly? Only Brandy Man remained. I asked him if I could use his phone to ring my wife and we went back up his path. It rang for some time before anyone came and then, to my surprise, Nick (the three year old) answered it.

"Can I speak to your mum please", I said, speaking as slowly and clearly as possible.

"My mummy has gone to the swimming baths without me", answered a small and very indignant voice. Then he put the phone down with a crash. For a moment I was stunned, then I did a bit more of the Cleese choreography. What was she messing about at, leaving a three-year old in the house by himself?

"What's wrong?", said the brandy man and, as I explained, I could see his eyes searching for the bottle again.

"Right", he said finally, probably having come to the conclusion that I was a Newcastle Brown man after I had fought off offers for another 'medicinal glass', "I'll run you back". If the pope ever needs votes for saints, that man gets mine. It took only a few minutes to get the couple of miles to our house and he came in with me to see that everything was alright.

"Nicholas", I bawled as we went through the front door. Silence.

"Oh my God, he's done something", I moaned, as we looked for him. I was just looking in the washing machine when the phone rang.

"It's me", said my wife's voice as I picked it up. "I couldn't wait any longer, so we're at the baths".

"Why did you go without Nick?", I screamed and I could see Brandy Man eyeing the door longingly.

"What do you mean?", she replied, "he's here with us of course. I wouldn't leave him by himself. I had previously thought that going insane would be a sort of escape but it obviously wasn't. I was getting more stressed out by the moment.

"But he spoke to me on the phone", I said weakly, "he said......"

"Oh, it was you who rang. He put the thing down before I could get there. I was outside fastening the other two in the car. Anyway, how have you gone on with the new one? you were a long time getting back".

This was the moment I'd been dreading. However the idea of sticking my head in the gas oven was out of the question, because it was electric. Not only would it hurt too much but we couldn't afford the electricity now.

"It's funny you should mention that", I said, stalling. I was strongly tempted to make a hissing noise down the mouthpiece, shout "hey, you've gone faint. Can you hear me? Damn - something wrong with the line", slam it down and leave in the direction of Australia. After searching desperately for the subtle way of putting the information across, I came up with "the bloody thing caught fire - it's a write off".

There was a short silence, then she laughed.

"No, really", she said, "how was it".

What did she want - points out of ten? A rating against the Great Fire of London? When I finally got the message across, she was quite philosophical about it and told me to calm down and get myself a cup of tea.  Brandy Man was halfway out of the door.

"Ah well", he said as he backed down the drive, "I suppose it could have been worse".

"I suppose so", I replied. But I was lying.

That evening, at about ten minute intervals, I rang the man who sold me the car. There was no answer. He was obviously expecting me, I thought. Then at about half past eight he picked up.

"I took the family to the cinema", he explained in answer to my comment that I'd been trying all evening to get him. I bit back the obvious question as to whether it was 'Towering Inferno' he'd been to see, because I had. When I explained what had happened though, he sounded genuinely shocked.

"We were all out in it this afternoon", he said, "my God, we were lucky, it could have been us". Obviously this was very gratifying to me also. I saw it as a good point to bring up the sensitive question of the six hundred pounds.

"Well, let me have a look at the car myself", he said, then I'll have a word with my wife about it and ring you back". I think He probably thought it'd need a bit of a coat of paint or something. He would pay for that and I would be happy. However, this was tantamount to putting a bicycle patch on the hole in the Titanic and rowing her home.

About an hour later he rang me back and to my joy said that he couldn't possibly keep my money. He was shocked at the state of the car and was only too pleased that I hadn't been killed. He wanted all the details of how it happened, so that he could say he'd been in it when it happened and thereby salvage something from the insurance company.

And so ends another cautionary tale. I immediately whipped round on my bike to collect the money before he could change his mind, and resolved to use this mode of transport more often. Bikes don't catch fire.

Nuphar lutea (brandy bottle) flowers

Rather obviously, this subject leads into having a look at brandy bottle, the native water lily with the largest leaves. Cornus sanguinea 'Winter Flame' with its attractive fire-like winter stems is another contender, as is  burning bush (Dictamnus albus), an attractive perennial producing an aromatic oil which can be ignited in hot weather. Hold a match near it in the right conditions, and the whole plant goes up with a flash. This was suggested to be the burning bush mentioned in the bible and so has religious interest. However, using it as an educational tool for demonstrating this remarkable property doesn't do a lot for your herbaceous border.

The Latin name for brandy bottle is Nuphar lutea. Nuphar comes from Persian nufar meaning Nymphaceae - the water lily family - and lutea means yellow, referring to its flower. This is not really one to be recommended if you only have a small pond, because of the size of its leaves (about sixteen inches across), and deep water preference (can live in fifteen feet of water but will tolerate less). The common name relates to the seed pod remaining when the flower is finished, although as to what era brandy bottles were that shape I'm not sure.

The 'brandy bottle' seed capsules

Frog-bit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) is a much smaller native water plant and therefore more suitable for the majority of garden ponds. It proliferates quickly but is easy to control, as it floats on the surface and can be fished out with a net. However, it is classed as an invasive plant in Canada and some North American states. I have actually seen a frog sitting in the water under a frog-bit and looking for all the world as if it were wearing a beret. Perhaps it was French and perhaps also it was an incident like that which inspired someone to call it frogbit. They overwinter as buds in the mud at the bottom of the pond and it is as well to note this so you're not tempted to indulge in the mania for 'cleaning out the pond' which results in the loss of these plants as well as that of a number of other forms of wildlife including some frogs. When the bud warms up in spring it grows, using stored food, and the subsequent loss of weight causes it to pop to the surface. As well as being aesthetically pleasing, the plant is useful in that, like lilies and pondweed, it cuts out light from the surface and so, to some degree, limits the growth of algae. It has separate white, three petalled  male and female flowers which emerge from  spathes like the one  visible towards the bottom of the photo. The males have short stems and the females are supported on longer ones. They usually open in July, so the one in the picture just taken is yet to emerge.

So, having travelled from hot cars to frogs, I rest my case for this week.


Frogbit. The spathe at the bottom of the picture is where the flower emerges.













Saturday, 8 June 2013

Drains

      The downstairs lavatory became blocked a few years ago. I tried the plunger on it, without success and followed this by the addition of numerous proprietary products guaranteed to clear blockages, which gave the same results. I’d try these things then flush it. Each time the water in the bowl would rise ominously and watching it was like witnessing a volcano erupting, knowing the larva was going to engulf you but being unable to escape. All the invocations to ‘get down you bugger’ proved as futile as the industrial strength laxatives we’d tried on it, and I spent a lot of time mopping up. Having started work on this project wearing house shoes I ended up in wellies. I finally recognised the futility of working on it from the toilet end and decided the sewage pipe was the problem – there must have been a collapse or something. There was one of these manhole grids in the front garden and this, I decided, was where I should be focusing my activities.

      I knew a bit about manholes from an experience in a previous house: the contents from next door’s toilet had made their way down a pipe which ran underground along the back of our house before reaching a junction, accessible by a manhole. At this point it joined our effluent to that of next door's, and it all flowed into a larger pipe which took it to the main sewer. There was something of philosophy about it – the river of life flowing to the sea of eternity, and all that. Anyway, the bloke next door came round one day and asked if he could look down our manhole, as they were having some trouble with their flush. I went out with him and we managed to lift the lid, using my garden fork.

      “Right ,” said the neighbour, whose name was Eric, “now we need to do a test. What colour is your toilet paper?” This was a subject I hadn’t given much consideration to because whatever pastel shade it happened to be didn’t have much relevance to the actual use of the stuff. No doubt rich people who can afford paper which matches the bathroom d├ęcor will look at this differently, but we just got the cheapest, so I had to go in and look.

      “Pink,” I said, on returning.

      “Good,” he beamed, “ours is blue.”

      I wasn’t sure whether this was an indication of Tory leanings, so I said nothing but decided to treat him with caution.

      “Now, you go in and flush some paper down and I’ll do the same, then we’ll be able to tell which is our inlet and which is yours.”

      At this point I felt I must be missing something. It seemed to me that the inlet entering from the direction of our house must be ours and the one from his direction would be his. However I’m not a very confident person, so assumed he must know something I didn’t. Accordingly we both went in to our respective houses and flushed toilet paper down the loo, then rushed outside to see the results. Nothing.

      “We weren’t quick enough,” said Eric. “It had gone before we got back. We’d better try again and run faster.”

     “Hang on,” I said, after the third failure, “why don’t I get my wife to flush some down while I wait here and watch. You get Cynthia to do the same and we both stay here.” There may be a Guiness Book of Records potential in this sort of thing but the thought of breaking my neck coming down stairs to view lavatory paper didn’t have great appeal.

      He looked at me admiringly. Obviously I had shot up in his estimation:

      “Great idea,”he said.

     And so it was that we were both standing looking down the hole in the back garden when, at a shouted command, our respective wives both flushed the toilet at the same time.

       Amazingly, the blue paper came down the pipe exit leading from the direction of his house and the pink came from the one leading in the direction of ours. Both were flowing freely, so any problem must have cleared itself.

      It was around this time that I began to suspect Eric of having a bit of a drain fetish. He would begin to appear at different times, asking permission to lift the manhole cover so that he could check the freedom of flow. It seems they were always having problems with it and he would spend long periods gazing down the hole, while shouting instructions to the long suffering Cynthia about when to flush. It was getting to the point where I was wary of using the toilet in case Malcolm was into deciding who had made what contribution to the flow. I was getting paranoid to the extent that I got my wife to buy blue paper in order to stump him.  Jed, the next door neighbour in the other direction, a bloke with a blunt northern outlook, referred to him as ‘Eric the Drain’. This became embarrassing when my seven year old son, who was one day playing in the front garden, saw Eric coming and bellowed ‘Dad, Eric. the Drain is here’ in a voice which probably loosened a few slates. The only people not embarrassed by this were the seven year old son and Eric, who was either deaf or too immersed in sewage considerations to notice.

      The drain viewing was becoming tiresome, interrupting meals and television viewing. However,when he got to the irritating stage of going in our back garden and lifting the lid without asking us, I happened to mention it to Jed. He went away to think about it and returned the following day, grinning maliciously:

      “I’ll teach the bugger,” he said in his broad Oldham accent, “revenge is at hand mate.” This was a somewhat obscure pun which I didn’t recognise until he quickly reappeared from a visit back to his own house, brandishing a  flesh-coloured rubber glove. He proceeded to partially inflate it, then he tied the end and inserted it into an old stocking stuffed with paper, so that it looked like a hand projecting from a sleeve. The next step was to create a sort of trestle, using a coat-hanger. After a lot of smelly messing about, this was successfully inserted into the large main drain outlet, leaving room for a free flow of sewage underneath. Viewed from above, it looked pretty realistic – a disembodied arm, suggesting a murderer’s failed attempt at disposal. Then we waited, expecting Eric to come to the door, laughing at our jolly jape. It didn’t happen. Eric was  a serious type liable to miss a humorous point, so I’m not sure how he interpreted the hand. However, the drain suddenly lost its fascination and he never mentioned it again. Soon afterwards, they moved.

     Anyway the problem with the downstairs toilet was at our new house and this time the manhole cover was, as I mentioned, in the front garden. When I flushed the loo nothing came through, despite repeated attempts, so I came to the conclusion that the pipe leading to it had collapsed. The logical thing to do was send for help but, as finances were a bit tight, I decided to dig along the line of the pipe, starting from the manhole outlet, with a view to replacing any damaged sections. The drain was fairly deep at the outlet but would obviously get less so the closer I got to the toilet. It is surprising  the amount of soil you need to remove just to reach a small effluent pipe. At one point I was at the bottom of what was rapidly becoming a major excavation when a woman’s voice caused me to stick my head up over the bank of soil:

      “World War One making a revival, then?” It was Monica, our next-door neighbour. I must have look blank because she followed up with “trenches”, indicating the fifteen foot ditch I’d made. She was leaning on the wall with Brenda the neighbour from the other side. For some reason they seemed to find my exploits humorous and giggled at their witty comments. It was amazing how they always managed to appear when I was undertaking a major project. Anyway, I made some inane response, wishing they’d sod off, then continued my dig to the accompaniment of more hilarious statements about panzers coming down the road. There was also a reference to how they were looking forward to the poppies. They were obviously unaware that there were no panzers in World War One but I resisted pointing this out and contented myself with the satisfaction I got from their display of ignorance. I did briefly wonder about the effect of sticking the hosepipe up the sewage outlet from Monica’s house, which entered our manhole, and turning it on full blast – give her a taste of cold bidet when least expected -  but I already had enough to contend with. Some things are best left as blissful contemplation.

     The pipe seemed intact for the full length of the lawn, right to the spot where it disappeared under the drive. At this point I scratched my head. Digging the drive up would be a big job, but I’d got this far and the thought of paying someone to do it gave me added impetus. Borrowing a sledge hammer from a friend, I got stuck in. After about three hours and the loss of a couple of stone, I managed to break up the concrete sufficiently to dig down to the still maddeningly undamaged pipe. I got a bad feeling when it became obvious that it was heading past the end of our house and was, in fact, wending its cheerfully intact way under the fence into next door’s garden. Wrong pipe.

      As this gruesome truth was becoming apparent another problem occurred: my wife came out to use the car, which happened to be in a garage now separated from the street by a trench demarking the route of next-door’s sewage drain. I’d forgotten about the car. She stood for a few moments with arms crossed, contemplating the devastation in that maddeningly serene way of hers:

     “I think the blocked pipe goes straight into the street sewer,” she observed helpfully. This was one of those occasions when ‘helpfully’ equated to ‘me being ready to kill someone’, and I glared at Brenda, still leaning on the wall. Monica appeared to have slid down it during the course of some sort of convulsion.

      My wife doesn’t swear, but she managed to convey the impression that I was pretty unpopular and gave  instructions that the drive was to be replaced immediately, re-establishing communication between  car and   outside world.

     It turned out my wife was right:  the drain from the downstairs toilet went straight out to the main sewer, never passing anywhere near the manhole in the front garden. Dyno-Rod came out and cleared it, after we’d taken out a second mortgage. The drive never fully recovered.

      Naturally, when having read this, your thoughts turn to lavatories and 'lavatory' easily metamorphoses into 'Lavatera', that valuable decorative shrub sometimes confusingly referred to as Mallow. The confusion arises because the two plants are closely related and the flowers are similar. The alternative common name 'tree mallow' more accurately describes Lavatera, because it tends towards woodiness and has greater vigour. Mine was bought as Lavatera Barnsley, which has white flowers ageing to pink. It is vigorous, growing to 6ft by 6ft in a season, when cut hard back in spring. It is common and for good reason - it is idiot proof. Not only does it flower throughout summer but softwood cuttings, taken in early summer, root with consummate ease. 
Lavatera 'Barnsley'

      And this brings me to my usual ramp about plant snobbery, these people who turn their noses up at subjects simply because a lot of people have them. Gardening isn't just about growing rarities (many of which wouldn't be given house room if they weren't rare) - its about displaying plants to their best effect, positioned so that they contrast pleasingly with their neighbours.

       'Fashion' in gardening is another opportunity for a ramp: for God's sake, the garden should be what you want it to be, what makes you happy when you look at it, not what some t.v. guru suggests is the right thing. In a way, a garden is an expression of your art and if other people don't like it, sod 'em. There are general rules that help create pleasing effects but they aren't carved in stone. I remember studying a colour wheel at college: it showed what shades fitted with others and I thought it must be something  no gardener could do without until I saw a field of wildflowers which nature had put together without the use of one. 

      Humour is another aspect that shouldn't be overlooked. If planting up a lavatory bowl is something that brings a smile, then it has the ultimate qualification for your garden. What other people consider to beautiful or interesting to them is fine, just remember that doing your own thing is the course that brings the most satisfaction.