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Down the Garden Pathby Beverley Nichols
Mrs. M. stared at me with undisguised suspicion. 'Rock garden?' she cried. 'What do you mean ... rock garden?'
'By a rock garden,' I replied, 'I mean a garden containing a quantity of rocks.'
'But you haven't any rocks.'
'Not yet ... no.'
'Where are you going to get them?'
I had not the least idea where I was going to get them, so I said, in a sepulchral voice, 'They Are Coming,' rather
as though the skies might open at any moment and deluge us with a cascade of boulders.
'Yes ... but where from?'
'Yorkshire.' This was partly guess-work and partly memory, because I remembered reading in some book of a man
who had a quarry of stone in Yorkshire which he used to export.
Mrs. M snorted again. 'That'll cost you a pretty penny,' she said. I could hear signs of fierce envy in her voice.
She swung her string-bag backwards and forwards, and glared at my mountain. Then she said:
'But you're surely not just going to stuff a lot of rocks on all that mud?'
'Stuff them? No. I shan't stuff them.'
'Well ... throw them, then. You've got to have some sort of design.'
'What is it?'
'It is being Done For Me,' I said.
I could think of nobody but Sir Edwin Lutyens, who designed Delhi. So I said, 'You will catch cold, Mrs. M., if you
stand in the wet grass.'
I am glad to be able to record that she did.
I was therefore committed to a rock garden. I spent a restless night, cursing myself for being so easily irritated
by Mrs. M. But on the following morning, when I again visited the pond and its accompanying mountain, the prospect
did not look so black. The site was promising. A fair slope led down to the pond. Two green arms of a hedge encircled
it. And over the pond towered the mountain, which had only to be slightly sat on, and carven into shape, and
decorated with roses, cunningly disposed, to be transformed into a rock garden.
So I fondly imagined.
I ordered the rocks. I was told that it was cheaper to order a truck-full, which would contain about eight tons.
It seemed a great deal, especially as they had to come all the way from Yorkshire. However I was assured that if
less were ordered 'it would come out much dearer in the end'. This commercial principle is usually to be
distrusted, for we learn by bitter experience that it is not cheaper to order, for example, ten yards of silk
for pyjamas when only three are required, or to buy a guinea bottle of hair oil when the three-shilling size
would do just as well. For it usually happens that we take a hatred to the silk, while the oil goes bad.
However, it was unlikely that the rocks would go bad. Besides, there constantly rose before me the sneering face
of Mrs. M. who did not believe that any rocks were coming at all.
She believed it, well enough, a few days later, when she had to drive four miles out of her way because the road
in front of my cottage was completely blocked by the collapse of an enormous van-full of best quality, fully
weathered Yorkshire rocks. She believed it still more when she discovered that she would be deprived of the services
of her odd man, who had secretly deserted her in order to earn double pay in transporting my rocks across the
field. He had transported them with such energy that he ruptured himself, and was confined to his bed for three
At last the thing was done. All the rocks were safely ensconced in the mountain ... the big ones at the bottom,
the small ones at the top. Looking back at this adventure, it seems almost incredible that I could have been
such a fatuous and ignorant optimist as to imagine that this was the way to make a rock garden ... without any
plan, without even an adequate preparation of the soil. Yet I did imagine it ... until I saw it in being. Then I
realized that a very big and expensive mistake had been made.
The thing was horrible. It was utterly out of keeping with the quiet and rambling beauty of the rest of the
garden. I tried looking at it from this way and from that, half closing my eyes and putting my head on one
side. I regarded it before and after cocktail-time. It looked much worse after, which is a proof that alcohol
stimulates the aesthetic sense. No amount of self-hypnotism could persuade me that I liked it.
It reminded me of those puddings made of spongecake and custard, which are studded with almonds until they look
like some dreadful beast thrown up from the depths of the sea. It had no sort of design. It was so steep that
the earth was already showing signs of falling away in the slightest rain. The best I could say about it was that
it made a very good shelter from the wind.
Had it not been for Mrs. M. I should have destroyed it overnight. False pride made me keep it there for several
days. But there are stronger emotions than false pride. One morning, a few days later, I went out, saw the hideous
thing and decided that it could remain no longer. Urgently we summoned the same men who had put it together. By
the following afternoon, the earth had all been taken away, and deposited in a neighbouring field. There
remained only a quantity of rocks, scattered about the grass.
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