Mary Killen

Dear Mary | 4 April 2013

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Q. My mother lives in a fine old house in Jersey and has a lovely garden. Unfortunately her Portuguese gardener has contrived to make the place look as though it belongs to the seafront in Llandudno. He has placed a large plastic owl on top of a bush in the centre of what was once a lovely circular rosebed in the front of the house. What is more, he has rigged, around said bush, fairy lights in the shape of butterflies that change colours and wink on and off. My mother, who has excellent taste in house interiors, has no sense whatsoever about gardens and will not help. Can you think of any way to help to put an end to this without offending the gardener?

— J.P., London SW1

A. It is your mother who lives in Jersey, not you. She may well see more of her gardener than of anyone else, so if harmony currently reigns between them because he feels professionally fulfilled then you should accept the status quo. What harm can the desecrations do? They may even deter burglars who would assume there was nothing worth stealing inside a house with such a garden. They will counterbalance any envy which might be felt by some of those who enter your mother’s tasteful interior. Neither will they put off potential purchasers in the future, who would see removal of them as a quick-fix opportunity to display their own skills of transformation.

Q. Your advice suggesting that visitors to invalids come in pairs, so they can talk to each other, is useful to my own housebound mother, but she also wonders how, when their protective instinct is to stay as long as possible, she can tactfully convey to people who have come to lunch that, though she has very much enjoyed seeing them, she is now tired and would rather like them to leave?

— Name and address withheld

A. Perhaps she might take a tip from the Duchess of Windsor and let a cushion do the talking. After lunch in the Bois de Boulogne, guests were encouraged to go through to a salon for coffee. On prominent display on one of the sofas was a cushion showing a clock set at 3 p.m. and bearing a message ‘Three o’clock – time to leave’. Whether the instruction was received subliminally or directly by the guests, no one could say, but the cushion rarely failed to deliver the requisite response.

Q. I am absolutely fed up with the non-arrival of spring. Is there anything that you can do to help, Mary?

— A.B., London W8

A. Based on the ‘carry a heavy umbrella and it will not rain’ principle, go out and buy thermal underwear, gloves and a winter coat up to the value of £500. If funds will stretch, invest in a sledge. Spring will follow in a couple of hours.