Writer and publisher of books for children

Friday, 13 June 2008


I have been spending a lot of time in my garden lately. Last year my husband and I began a project to redesign and replant the whole area. We had a number of established shrubs and trees so I knew this meant very close supervision on my part. My other half is still learning 'gardenspeak' and has not quite mastered the translation. A while ago I found to my alarm that 'prune' in English translates to 'raze to the ground' in his gardenspeak. I discovered this when I asked my dearly beloved to prune an attractive but overgrown shrub that stood in our front garden. An hour later I came out to find...well, nothing! No shrub, just a wide open space! After that I learned to recognise the gleeful expression on his face whenever borders needed to be tidied. I now know the quivering of the shears in his hot little hands does not bode well for my lavatera or mahonia!

Anyway, last year we extended the patio and reshaped the main flower bed. This year we tackled the lawns - two interlocking tear shapes dreamed up by Beloved - and the path around them. The only fly in the ointment is the latest mistranslation in Beloved's garden vocabulary. 'Plant sensitively' = 'buy the entire stock of every garden centre within a five mile radius and plant haphazardly in one's own backyard'. We now have every variety of plant known to man shoehorned into every available space and the result is a riot of colour and a major war going on as the plants battle for light, air and often, soil. Beloved has been banned from all garden centres but has twice been caught sneaking down the side entrance with a couple of flowerpots concealed about his person.

We had a forest of trees at the bottom of the garden - an oak, a beech, two ashes, several straggly trees of dubious parentage and two very large leylandii. Last year we hired tree surgeon Kevan Watt (www.qualitytreecare.co.uk) to cut down and thin out the trees. Naturally Beloved had his hand up for the job and equally naturally I said 'NO!'

The first thing was dealing with the leylandii. They had to go because they were blocking out the other trees. The tree surgeons then removed the mongrel trees and carefully pruned the others. Beloved and I sat on the patio with cups of tea and a plate of Danish pastry to watch the performance. And it really was like a performance. Carefully chosen boughs were chain-sawed, lowered to the ground, hauled off to the front of the house and put through a grinder. The speed, precision and elegance of the whole operation was amazing. In no time we were left with four beautifully shaped trees and a garden cleared and cleaned to a standard it had never seen before, certainly not since we took over ownership. I love watching people who know what they are doing, doing what they know and those guys really, really knew what they were doing.

The next phase comes next year when we have to do something about the area under the trees and that includes a semi-submerged air raid shelter and a family of foxes that might not take kindly to getting their eviction notice. The area needs to be completely cleared so maybe they will decamp at the first sight of Beloved happily indulging his craving for hacking down everything within his reach.