Country houses for sale

Planting in restricted space/light

Dear Mrs Danvers, My daughter has just bought a basement flat in London. It has only a miniscule area for plants beside the front windows. Can you suggest what she should grow?

For a start, the basement area is likely to be short of light, so it’s not worth trying anything that needs plenty of sun. On the other hand, it will be sheltered and, probably, not frost-prone, so the plants can be moderately tender, especially in central London.

Personally, I would go for a minimalist look using evergreens. The ideal, in my mind, would be a series of pots, each planted with the black bamboo Phyllostachys nigra. This has striking, shiny black stems (known as culms in bamboo- speak) and elegant small, evergreen leaves. If your daughter’s basement area is painted white (a good idea anyway for extra light), this bamboo will look beautiful in front of it.

Confining the plants to pots?perhaps zinc ones for extra chic?means the bamboo cannot make a nuisance of itself. However, this is a slightly temperamental variety and should be kept well watered, although not waterlogged, and its old stems should be cut away at the base to keep it tidy.

Dear Mrs Danvers, I have a lovely black labrador and want to get her a smart collar. Any suggestions?

The best collars are Swiss, made of a high-quality dark-red leather with little brass cows fixed around the centre (don’t ask me why cows). Get a friend to find one there or try Harrods’ pet department where they do occasionally stock them (although not at present).

Alternatively, go to the highest dog lovers in the land?the Royal Family. Buckingham Palace’s shop?where else??has leather ones with the Royal crown (as seen on postage stamps) stamped into the leather. They come in two sizes, small and large, £10.95 and £12.95. Telephone Buckingham Palace on 020?7930 4832 and ask to be put through to the shop or, for mail order, telephone 0845 3302898.