Hillie: small village survival expert, mum and writer.
Ted, Toby (aged 8) and Lottie (aged 6): Hillies husband and children.
Deirdre Snellon: chair of the Vertonbridge Horticultural Club.
Horsewoman and Nancy the Horse: annoying local and new secretary of the Vertonbridge Horticultural Club and her ‘mount’. Gardening Enthusiasts: a random selection of locals, ‘out of towner gardening types’ and Vicar Dennis.
It was Sunday morning at about 8:40 am. I was curtain twitching in a Midsomer Murders stylee and surepticiously peeping out from behind the folds of fabric. I had already heard the familiar clip clop of Horsewoman on her mount as they ambled towards our house. Bang on cue, Nancy the horse deposited a steaming pile of manure outside our cottage. She likes to leaves us poo messages virtually every day and this has always been a bugbear of mine. Now if you’ve read my latest posts you’ll know that I have recently been on the end of some very bad news (dumped by my Literary Agent)! And in that moment all my latent and internalised angst rose up like magma in a volcano and before I knew it I was standing at my front door (in my dressing gown) about to erupt like a towelling clad Mount Vesuvius.
“Must your horse drop it’s load outside our house EVERYDAY! TELL IT TO HAVE A DAY OFF WILL YOU – IT”S SUUUUNNNNDDDDDAY” I shrieked indecorously.
Horsewoman halted Nancy and turned the big nag towards me.
“You really should be grateful – it’s free fertiliser!” she replied condescendingly from her high horse vantage point, “Oh, and as the newly appointed Secretary of the Vertonbridge Horticultural Club, I would suggest that this rose bush here,” she added pompously and referring to the knackered and gnarled old rose that climbs up and over our front door, “requires dead heading.” Then Horsewoman nudged Nancy on with her heels while her haughty demeanour told me that the conversation was over. Hang on, I’m not done shrieking and taking out my residual anger on you! So I slammed my front door like a sulky teenager – a seemingly impotent gesture, but the reverberations probably dead headed a few bloody roses, happy now Horsewoman-face?
OK we may be a bit remiss with our (gone over) roses but actually we do have a couple of gardening enthusiasts in our house – Lottie, who’s always digging and planting and is renowned for having green fingers, and her Dad (Ted). They love working together – making the garden a colourful and pleasant place to be. I, on the other hand struggle to keep a basil alive on my kitchen window sill and Toby only likes ‘gardening’ in minecraft! So when we got a letter through the door about the ‘Village Open Gardens’ I decided to apply on Lottie’s behalf………………dot dot dot.
Not long after I had returned the slip, Deirdre Snellon the chair of the Vertonbridge Horticultural Club (and Dictatorship Regime) knocked on my door to gently/politely/passive aggressively make a suggestion.
“Ah Deirdre, how lovely to see you!” I said disingenuously at the front door. Deidre’s lips were pursed and shaped not unlike a cat’s bottom.
“Yes Hillie, so glad I caught you, it’s been brought to my attention by another member of the horticultural club that you really need to deadhead your front fascia roses before the Open Gardens and the Village in Flower competition. Oh and make sure you clear up any manure in the lane also.”
“Of course!,” I said faux brightly, I just love clearing up after horseface’s old nag! “we can’t wait to put on a show,” I added doing wavy jazz hands which I don’t think Deirdre much appreciated.
“Quite! And your Cherry Laurel hedge really should have been trimmed last month!” Deirdre threw over her shoulder snottily as she turned to stalk off. Arsy cow.
In my mind I wanted to keep it real! Usually the ‘Open Gardens’ were perfectly primped and pruned to exacting standards with a plethora of topiary bushes, fecund kitchen gardens, pretty orchards, sweeping lawns, and impressive hellebore borders (Horti speak for Christmas roses etc appaz). And I decided, why not show that dreary Deirdre Snellon (who herself is a perennial helle-bore) a real family garden complete with ‘bird poo splattered slide’ and (seen too many winters) ‘leaning trampoline’. Lottie was over the moon with excitement at showing off ‘her’ garden and Ted mucked in, mowing the lawn and doing a bit of extra weeding.
The day of the ‘Open Gardens’ afternoon arrived. Lottie had made a couple of welcoming signs which we fixed on the front door and side gate, we’d decided on a nominal £1 entry for adults (bit of a rip off – but all for Charidee!). Together we baked a big batch of scones that morning (they were like small beige bricks but really – who gives a toss, anything tastes good with jam and clotted cream on it) and we laid the garden table with a selection of miss-matched cups, mugs and small plates. I’d like to say that it all looked ‘very villagey vintage’, but it just looked like a crap charity shop display of uncoordinated crockery to be fair.
By 2:30pm, and rather surprisingly, we had a steady trickle of villagers wandering through our side gate – they were actually en route to the ‘proper’ open gardens up the road and had been herded in (like dim sheep) by Lottie. They would probably ‘have us’ any minute for time wasting/trades description but Lottie was in her element and wanted to show them around. As the garden filled up with more gardening enthusiasts (some of whom looked slightly perplexed at the lack of privet hedges and prize wisteria) a reporter from our local rag wandered in and Lottie started doing ‘guided tours’ – our garden isn’t very big by the way, each tour took about 5 minutes.
She began with our ‘Topiary bushes’ (as if!). She began with our fecund ‘kitchen garden’ (actually our unweeded and scrubby veggie patch).
“This is where we plant our vegetable seeds and we like to grow lettuces and radishes for the slugs, or thats what Daddy says anyway!” she said proudly, “and here’s our scarecrow, ‘Donald Trump’. Mummy says he’s really scary and likely to keep the birds off the veggies……..my brother says that trump is also another word for far……”
“YES, thank you Lottie.”I interjected. I’d laminated a particuarly frightening photo of Trump’s head and helped Lottie affix it to the scarecrow’s body. The terrifying hairstyle alone was doing the job.
Lottie moved everyone onto our impressive ‘Hellebore border’ (just a bunch of roses clumped together to be honest).
“This is the rose bed, Mummy said we had to grow them because we get sooooo much manure outside our house from that poopy horse Nancy!”
Lottie then gathered everyone around her own personal gardening patch.
“And here are my two sunflower seedlings. This kind of sunflower is called ‘Teddy Bear’ so I called this one Winnie and this one Pooh. They’ll be quite tall with big yellow flowers in the summer,” Lottie squatted down next to the slightly feeble and unexciting looking plants.
Walking across the ‘sweeping lawns’ (ungenerous area, mostly dandelions, daisies, clover with about 1% grass) she stopped at a certain spot that we (the family) all avoided. Oh dear, and before I could stop her..…
“This is where next door’s cat always does a poo!” she toe pointed gleefully to a permanant brown and arrid patch in the lawn. This was met with a surprising number of nods of agreement from her crowd (it seems that most of us have this problem).
Onto the ‘abundant orchard’ (actually one old and probably dying apple tree that produces about 3 gnarly apples a year, which promptly fall off and get infested with wasps.)
“This is our swing in the apple tree, you can have a go on it if you like but you might be a bit too heavy.” I think she was singling out the vicar who was rather rotund but looked pretty keen to swing (but that’s another story for another blog post!!!).
At some point Deirdre, who had let herself in via the side gate, cornered me between the greenhouse and the trampoline “looks like you have it all under control here, send them up to my garden afterwards” she said ungenerously through her cat’s bottoms lips adding haughtily, “I see you didn’t trim your Cherry Laurel hedge as I suggested.”
“Deirdre, would you like to go and…………..would you like to go and have one of Lottie’s homemade scones and a lovely cup of tea!” I suggested mock pleasantly, affixing a smile to my lips and wishing that a passing Triffid would drop in and feast on her putrifiying flesh.
Well, here’s a turn up for the books- I’m not sure about the perfectly presented gardens up the road (Deirdre’s) but we got an actual article in the actual local paper – The Vertonbridge Valley Gazette. Warning – crap headline pun alert!
More next week,
As you were!
Note to myself: The one when Lottie entered the Village Open Gardens.