In the garden

IF YOU are expecting propagation hints, vegetable progress reports, or a piece liberally peppered with those weird botanical epithets you love so much, I’m afraid you’re in for a disappointment this week.

The flora and fauna (including Homo sapiens) of Lea Gardens has succumbed to a severe bout of midsummer madness. Gird your loins for a column concerned with love and procreation, irreverence, frivolity and a mere sprinkling of pretty flowers.

Where to start? In the pond of course, where life begins, where orfes are orfing, carps carping, where whirligig beetles play dodgem, water oarsmen row their little boats across the lake, and tadpoles sunbathe sub-aquatically, stretched out on little beach towels.

Regarding the latter, doom-laden prophecies of mass cannibalism – unless one feeds them on raw offal, suspended in nets – have proved completely false. Rather than eating each other, they dine on blanket weed, daphnia and alder leaves, and are metamorphosing nicely. Some tiny froglets are hopping about already, and at the last count, not a single tadpole was missing. Inhabitants of Tresta, prepare yourselves for an invasion of three million frogs later this summer.

I must say that our tadpoles are of a particularly charming, industrious, artistic, and intelligent kind. They have formed several choirs, a club for synchronised swimming, one for Salsa dancing, and have built a large raft out of straw bales for deep water diving. Performances take place every Saturday and Sunday between the

hours of 7pm and 9pm. The shows are very popular and tickets are all but sold out.

It goes without saying that all Lea Gardens staff members receive complimentary tickets, but there is no pleasing some.

It has come to my notice that a member of my A team was overheard – while sailing on the Hrossey from Aberdeen to Lerwick – complaining bitterly to a fellow traveller: “I’m not sure how much longer I can take this. She makes me stand for hours at the edge of the pond in freezing cold weather.”

This is completely untrue of course, but a sad example of how often generosity and kindness are repaid with disloyalty and ingratitude.

Now follow me very quietly into the trees of the garden to admire our first ever breeding pair of Columba palumbus. They seem to have a penchant for laburnums, which perfectly sets off their colouring; roosting in the open crown of a common one, while attempting to nest in the more compact and leafy Scottish variety for maximum camouflage.

<b>Laburnum without Columba palumbus.</b>

Laburnum without Columba palumbus.

One can’t but admire, even envy, their hedonistic lifestyle. Their day starts with a lengthy, leisurely roost, followed by further roosting and short distance flights to my newly sown, as yet un-germinated, peas for breakfast, lunch and dinner; I re-sow on a thrice-daily basis. Nest building takes place between 3.35pm and 4pm. Husband and wife never carry more than one twig at the time, and the whole process seems to exhaust them rather, so that I am toying with the idea of strapping a large breadbasket to a branch for them.

Columba palumbus is such a wonderful name. It would be unforgivable to refer to them as wood pigeons, as they are a particularly delightful pair with amber eyes, dove-grey wings, and plump soft pink breasts. They

also, you may not know this, produce milk to feed their young with.

This brings me swiftly to the previous weekend, spent in my parallel universe, where I, in the company of Lily the supreme illustrator, attended one of the legendary parties hosted by La Signora di Alto Rango and Il Marito Esigentissimo, better known to the readers of my column as Society Lady and High Main­tenance Husband.

Most of the guests had assembled on the roof terrace, which affords excellent views of the Hanging Gardens behind the Grass Market, and the castle, illuminated in shocking pink for the occasion. This, I was later told, proved a rather controversial choice, as the colour is usually reserved for celebrations of the city’s gay community.

The food, prepared by Society Lady’s fair hand, was as always, out of this world. Why oh why, had it never occurred to me to combine young broad beans, asparagus and chicory to accompany sea trout? HMH served his legendary rhubarb crumble canapés, the wine flowed freely, the conversation sparkled, but what good is a party without at least one nervous breakdown, or a couple falling in love – perhaps both?

There was an almost audible swishing of Cupid’s darts as soon as HMH introduced one of his handsome gardeners to the beautiful Amanda, an artist from Nottingham. There’s nothing quite like wit­nessing the first fragile petals of a romance unfold, but lovers need privacy, and I left the room as he clasped her to his breast. Or should that be bosom?

I’d missed most of the nervous breakdown. On my return to the roof terrace I observed a middle-aged lady, wailing hysterically, being helped into a waiting taxi in the street below. Her distraught state had been caused by a fellow guest accusing her of once smothering a fledgling blackbird by clasping it to her ample bosom. Three animated conversations were in full flow: the first on the sad decline of contemporary art into navel gazing and personality cult, the second on the merits of the semi-colon.

The third, most animated one, was concerned with a deeply philo­sophical question: Did men have bosoms? Strangely, all the men present, including the eminent Dr Noltie, insisted they did.

I say poppycock. A man, just like a bird, has a breast, not bosom. Achilles, Agamemnon and Odys­seus, to mention but three heroes of my misspent youth, wore breast, not bosom plates in battle, and where on earth, I ask you, is the restaurant that serves pan-fried chicken bosom?

Given that wood pigeons are considered a pest further south, I could, however, should their breed­ing get out of hand, see myself serving up some plump pigeon breast in the future. Perish the thought. The billing, cooing pair is, just like the smitten couple above, a delight to watch, and not the only bit of Lea Gardens fauna thus afflicted.

One of my gardeners has been behaving rather strangely of late. Rather than toiling the soil, as is his role in life, he sits on the lawn, knots daisy chains, or plucks out their petals one by one, muttering: “She loves me, she loves me not, she loves me . . .”

As soon as my back is turned, he downs tools and starts frolicking through the wild flower meadow, picks blossoms as he goes, then places them gently into the trug that dangles from his left arm. At lunchtime, rather than devouring the contents of his piece box as he usually does, he sits, wafting after­shave, and staring into the middle distance, with the expression of a satisfied milk-fed calf on his face.

This state of affairs is of course highly detrimental to the garden and can’t be allowed to continue. As he is technically minded, I have in the past, whenever there was no soil to be toiled, instructed him to invent new gardening tools, machinery and other contraptions, and he has always risen to the challenge. His present brief, designed to take his mind off his beloved, is to engineer an environ­mentally friendly, wind-powered lawn mower that converts the grass clippings into ready to use fertiliser pellets.

I’m not holding my breath, but having been told by a friend who knows these things, that falling in love is simply a chemical reaction that wears off sooner or later, I believe the new mower may be ready in a decade or two.

In the meantime, we have put our ram, Abernethy the Third, to good use. Securely tethered, he does an admirable job, and has one great advantage over a man-made machine: unlike a wind-powered lawnmower, he cuts the grass, and manufactures fertiliser pellets 7/24, regardless of whether the wind blows or not.

Rosa Steppanova


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