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HOBBIES is a word that has such a pleasurable and contented ring about it - hobbies, something that you enjoy doing and adds to the quality of your life. Perhaps like me, you envisaged retirement as a time to at last indulge yourself with all the hobbies and interests which had to be pushed into the background during the hectic years of working and looking after the family, only to discover that retirement is just as hectic and that it is still a job to fit in hobbies.

I was surprised to read that the most popular hobby/pastime in the UK is fishing. I do not know how they arrived at this conclusion, but I cannot agree with it. I can't think of one friend or acquaintance that goes fishing, BUT every one of my friends is a keen GARDENER. I have just returned from a Bank Holiday visit to a large garden centre, and it resembled the local supermarket on a Saturday morning. It was heaving with people, with queues at all five checkouts; so I would definitely say that during spring and early summer, gardening is the No. 1 hobby/interest/pastime.

There is something special about an English country garden. I can understand why it has developed into a multi-million-pound business - songs have been written about it and over the past few years there has been a deluge of TV programmes, and I am one of the addicted millions. In fact, when I am away from home for any length of time, the only thing I miss (apart from the family, of course) is my garden. Sometimes when sitting on a hot crowded foreign beach I think nostalgically of the simple pleasure of relaxing on my cool green lawn with a book and the silence broken only by the sound of trickling water from the pond accompanied by the singing of the birds. . . and all this taken for granted and, furthermore, not costing a penny.

Now that I have conjured up this simple but blissful picture, how can we achieve a beautiful relaxing garden whilst keeping backache and aching joints to a minimum?

First of all, have a plan in your mind of your completed garden and the purpose of it. My personal plan is along the lines of a country garden; a curving lawn with plants and colourful blooms spilling over the edges, giving a soft natural effect as nature intended. I love the sound of water in the garden, so I built a small rustic pond in the corner with a waterfall emerging from behind an old tree and with plants covering the sides of the waterfall. On the plus side if you bring water into the garden, you will also bring the frogs, and frogs mean less slugs.

Every garden should have a focal point whether it be a pleasing view, statue, archway covered in blossom, water feature, etc. - a focal point which makes you happy and is in tune with your mind. Also, of course, necessary seating in order to enjoy the chosen focal point/s and, just as important, seating where you can sit and enjoy the last rays of the sun with a glass of wine in your hand, and, often overlooked, seating in a shady spot. At the moment, an old cherry tree provides enough shade to cover our large dining table, but I'm hoping (with a meaningful nod in my husband's direction) that a pergola will magically appear in the near future. It will probably appear quicker if I conjure up in his mind a picture of himself relaxing under the pergola enjoying the glass of wine etc, etc. Now, if your garden is blessed by an old knarled husband (sorry, my mind is wandering again, I mean old knarled tree) - perhaps an old apple tree, don't be tempted to chop it down, but aim to incorporate it into the garden by making a focal point out of it. Perhaps by building a circular seat around it or allowing climbing blossom to drape over it. It's things like this, which money and garden designers can't buy, which give a garden character and individuality.



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