was hanging out the washing in the back garden, as I infrequently do, when a woman who was walking down the road strolled into the garden and stopped for a chat about the weather, the state of the nation and such matters. In those days the garden was unfenced, you see, but not any more.
Staring at her in some amazement I wondered if this was just a localized way of introducing oneself to new people, or was it – I suspiciously conjectured – simply a short cut habitually taken? After a couple of minutes of one-sided idle chit-chat over the washing line, during which my growing annoyance was camouflaged by inane grinning, she continued diagonally through next door’s garden and casually left the premises via a small gap in their leylandii hedging.
This incident happened a number of years ago now, shortly after we moved into a nice little cottage with a half-acre garden in the Scottish Borders and reminds me of another strange encounter that happened soon afterwards. I was struggling to erect a fence around the property, a fence to keep strange women out, the sort of strange women who wander willy-nilly about your garden, when I spied an old lady leering at me over the Copper Beech hedge. She looked me in the eye, very canny she was, and barked: “Are you married?”
Well of course I was, I assured her, even though I wasn’t at the time, and this seemed to do the trick. I grinned inanely at her throughout the duration of this short interrogation and then, looking supremely satisfied with herself, she strode manfully down the road and out of sight, never to be seen or heard of again. Once more I had encountered strange behaviors whilst pottering innocently about the garden. Whatever next?
This nice little cottage that we moved into, with its half-acre garden, was our home for a number of years. It came with an untidy garden, a sort of rambling mix of over-grown vegetable patches, a few apple trees, a neglected but productive plum tree, grass for the children to run about and play on and a large area overtaken by broom, thistles, long grasses and nettles.
It was our ‘wildlife garden’ as we came to call it, for it was clear that lack of money to buy basic tools, let alone hire a strimmer or a cultivator, meant that we wouldn’t be reclaiming it for many years to come. But a messy patch of over-grown garden can be transformed into a ‘wildlife’ garden by a simple leap of the imagination of course, and so that’s what we did. We simply called it a ‘wildlife garden’, then admired any wildlife that we spotted in it!
Along the western boundary of the garden we also inherited a Copper Beech hedge, a hedge in need of some care and attention, and the aforementioned hedge across which the old lady had leered at me. During the early years I spent a lot of time on this particular hedge until finally it became a source of much pride and joy. Initially it was a low and straggly thing, a bad excuse for a hedge really, over-run with ragwort, nettles and weeds.
There was even giant rhubarb in the middle of it but I tended it, shaped it, nurtured it, and eventually it blossomed into a fine specimen of hedging; a hedge to be proud of, a garden feature, an horticultural achievement. I concentrated on height as well, for I wanted it high enough to ensure privacy – and in particular privacy from the likes of strange old ladies and nosy passers-by.
Then we went away on holiday, a summer break in the sun, returning two weeks later to discover that the Copper Beech hedge had lost two foot in height. Good grief, it was two foot shorter, not the sort of thing that you expect to happen when you go away on holiday, is it? Good heavens, what sort of character lops two foot off your prized hedge when you’re back is turned? After a great deal of detective work I discovered that it was Roger, the taxidermist next door, so a few days later I confronted him as he was putting out his dustbin.
“Do you know, Roger,” I said, “some swine cut my Copper Beech? Now who on earth did that?
“It was me,” admitted Roger, tugging nervously on his white beard before going on to tell me sheepishly that he’d chopped it with his chainsaw. And why? Because his wife had told him to, you see, as it obscured visibility turning out of the shared driveway onto the main road, a problem that had been driving her ‘nuts’ for months apparently, although for some strange reason they’d neglected mentioning it to me.
For the sake of neighbourly relations I refrained from depositing him upside own in his own dustbin, sorely tempted though I was, but instead vowed to mutter and mumble loudly “Some swine cut my Copper Beech” whenever he ventured within earshot.
And so the moral of the tale is clear.
“Never trust a bearded taxidermist called Roger, particularly if he lives next door, for as sure as Winter follows Summer, or Summer follows Winter, he’ll mutilate your Copper Beech with a chainsaw and blame it on his wife.”
Now let that be a lesson to us all!
Chainsaw Pruning by Patrick Vickery.
(Copyright Patrick Vickery)
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