AFCD figures one year set the number of visitors to Hoi Ha at 96,000. As they file past my garden, stopping to be photographed by my letter box, inquisitive eyes watch me watering the garden. My garden is much admired – I’ve had all sorts of visitors ranging from the illustrious (Chow Yun Fat when bringing his Mum to Hoi Ha for lunch) to the unexpected such as the photographic club’s models who nipped in, thinking I wouldn’t notice them posing with prize blooms they’d picked to hold against their cheeks for the perfect pouting shot. The visitors to really look out for are the elderly ladies, bussed in on tours, who have a tendency to pull up entire plants by the roots to take as souvenirs. ‘Ngohge faan’ was a useful phrase I soon learned. I didn’t quite manage to learn the Cantonese for ‘you can have a cutting, but not the entire plant’, but sign language gives the message equally well. I used to have porcupines visit, but somebody in the village (who shall remain nameless) ate them. Cows have a good feast – they’ll eat most things, even thorny roses – the deal is that they can eat some of my plants, but not all of them.
I was wandering around my garden last Sunday with a teapot, wondering which plant to pour the tea leaves on to (as you do), when I bumped into a couple of young ladies not hanging over the fence but actually in my garden, taking photographs. I was rather taken aback. They had been enticed in through the gate by my busy lizzies which were really at their most magnificent best and a sight to behold. The YLs were really very sweet, and once we’d ascertained that yes, it really was my garden and no I don’t go shopping in Kowloon, I offered to take them on a whistle-stop tour. They were in a bit of a hurry as the tour bus was waiting to whisk them away.
I really ought to share a photo of my busy lizzies with you. However, somebody (who also shall remain nameless) left the gate open when taking the dogs for a walk. ‘Mum! There’s a herd of cows in the garden’ is guaranteed to get my immediate attention. Sure enough, they’d scoffed the lot.
After 20 years of gardening in the Country Park, I have learned that cows have much in common with goats – they’ll even eat roses, thorns ‘n all. However, all is not lost. Working on the principle that we’ll share my plants 50:50, I now intersperse the one plant that is mine and all mine: Euphorbia milii. The common name, Crown of Thorns, gives a clue as to why that plant is not on the bovine menu. Its 3 cm long spines help it scramble over other plants – and it even comes in a Jumbo version with seriously long thorns and even bigger flowers which turn out not to be flowers at all but a pair of colourful bracts that surround a tiny flower. It is very easy to grow from cuttings, which will drip a moderately poisonous white latexy sap so wear gloves – and there is no chance whatsoever of it being pulled out of the ground by its roots, not unless the elderly ladies start coming armed with Kevlar gloves.