Beachcomber’s ‘Advice to Foreigners on First Visiting London’ included “It is customary when entering a carriage on an underground train to shake hands with all the passengers”. Advice of a similarly mischievous nature has been given recently to German sex tourists who have been told that if they see pampas grass growing in the middle of the lawn in a suburban garden the people who live there will be “swingers”. When did pampas grass start to become such an object of ridicule? It’s not long since I heard Eric Robson, the chairman of Gardener’s Question Time, say that although he had no objection to seeing exotic plants in the right location there was nothing sillier than pampas grass growing in the middle of a suburban lawn.
But if you take away the snobbery and the silliness and look at the plant objectively it’s obvious that they are rather magnificent. The photo shows two in my garden which, while not yet fully mature, are still rather splendid. In Victorian times they were looked at objectively. In 1873, the editor of Gardeners’ Magazine, the great Shirley Hibberd, on seeing a majestic clump growing in Cornwall wrote: “It is worth a journey of a hundred miles to see it when it bears its silvery plumes in the splendour of its autumnal flowering”. He recommended that they should be planted in isolation, the better to appreciate their magnificence. This advice led directly to the trend in the garden of the modern suburban house and I think it’s advice worth following even if it does run the risk of German couples turning up expectantly at your front door.