Sunday, April 24, 2011

The deceptively savage English garden

Is there anything as perfect as an English garden on a warm Spring day? The profusion of lilac, cherry blossoms covering the trees like last winter’s snow fall, a persistent hum of bees and the horse snickering for a carrot in the field at the end of the lawn.

Yesterday was such a day in my parents garden - unseasonably warm so every plant is bursting into bloom (except the wisteria at the front which my mother sharply reprimanded for letting her down for my visit) and as I sat in the sun on a lawn chair with my much loved parents I thought there could not be any point in time more perfect.

But there is a savagery underneath – a survival hierarchy this perfection belies!

First I ask about the patches of soil in the grass on the upper lawn? Moles I hear! Smoked out, dug out, trapped, sworn at – WW I had nothing on the all out warfare that has gone on against the moles over the last 12 months. It’s then pointed out to me that the bottom 24 inches of several bushes have been eaten by the muntjac deer – now banished from the garden by hidden wire fencing (hmm, a good idea I think for the bunnies who ate all my brussel sprouts in California).

I suspect fencing was the solution for the muntjacs only because you can’t shoot them. I amusedly listened to my parents bicker about the pigeon my father shot for having the temerity to try to eat at the bird feeder. What was it thinking – that it is a bird and it’s a bird feeder? But the issue with my father shooting the pigeon is not (as I am thinking) poor pigeon! No! It’s that he’s hidden the carcass from my mother who wanted to put it out on the lawn as carrion for the red kites to come and eat. This woman would lull you into a false sense of gentleness up until this conversation, which is followed by her going to get more bird food. Seeds I think? No, a bag of dried worms…

There’s more trench warfare going on around the bird feeder – a gun is not enough. Squirrels are greedy and fast so for them the base of the bird feeder is covered with such a sticky substance that after one touch the squirrels will not put a foot on it. Instead they sit in the trees and scold in their frustration. The crows are clapped at, the pigeons shot, the squirrels gooed; who pray is the bird feeder covered in dried worms for?

And then I see the softer side to this savage garden. It’s for the little ones. It’s for Frankie and Johnnie, the pair of collared doves who have mated for life and have a family in the kitchen wisteria every summer. It’s for the robin who loves his worms dead or alive, the mistlethrush who comes back from Africa every Spring and the tits and sparrows who survived the very cold winter with my mother. They all came to visit yesterday. Cooing and whistling, welcoming me home, urging me to stay in the sun with them.

But it’s April in England. It’s unseasonably warm. I am sure it’ll be back in the 50s and raining by Monday and I’ll be gone.

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