Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

The Consolation of Gardening

In my latest column for the Tetbury Advertiser, I was drawing on memories of a visit to Highgrove Gardens on a glorious summer’s day and sharing how it inspired me to start a new feature in my own garden.

Photo at Highgrove of Debbie, her dad and her sister
Memories of a delightful family outing to Highgrove Gardens with my dad and my sister back in September – in the background is Highgrove House, Prince Charles’s country seat, just a few miles down the road from my rather humbler Cotswold cottage home (Photo copyright Paul Burns)

My recent visit to Highgrove to admire HRH’s numerous quirky gardens-within-a-garden inspired me to start a new feature in my own plot. I christened it my Circle of Life Garden, as it’s designed to provide perspective and reassurance in a time when we are all a little more conscious than usual of our mortality. In lighter moments, I call it my Pull Yourself Together Patch or the Get a Grip Garden, but the principle remains the same.

My Circle of Life Garden

Photo of my circle of life gardenAt the centre of the feature is a small buddha statue that a neighbour wanted shot of. Recycling or reincarnation? Either way, it seemed an appropriate starting point.

On each side of the buddha are ferns, chosen to represent prehistory. According to the Eden Project, ferns have been around for 350 million years. Predating dinosaurs, they were among the first land-dwelling plants to create the oxygen essential for the origins of man. What’s not to love about ferns?

Representing more recent history, between the buddha and the ferns I’ve laid out all the fragments of china and glass that my husband has unearthed while digging the garden. No, they’re not Roman relics, but refuse buried by the previous occupants of my Victorian cottage before the invention of the council dustcart.

Symbolising the present are wallflowers given to me by my father a couple of weeks ago and a cyclamen my sister brought me when she came to lunch last week.

Looking to the future, snowdrops and crocus bulbs planted beneath a bare patch of earth in front of the buddha are scheduled to emerge next spring.

image of writing hut with circle of life garden to the right
My Circle of Life garden is just next to my writing hut

All of these features are set against a backdrop of rotting logs, the remains of a plum tree that died of old age last year. As the logs decay, they are giving new life to bugs and beetles, which in turn feed small wild mammals and birds, and so the food chain goes on.

 

Thus in a compact space just a few feet wide, my Circle of Life Garden celebrates the past and the present and promises hope for the future. It’s certainly cheered me up.

There’s only one missing piece of the jigsaw: I’m still searching for a truly immortal plant. Japanese knotweed need not apply.


In Other News

In all of my novels, gardens feature prominently, whether in the village of Wendlebury Barrow, where Sophie Sayers nurtures the garden she’s inherited from her late great aunt, or at St Bride’s School nearby, where Gemma Lamb finds peace and solitude in the extensive school landscape.

cover of The Clutch of Eggs
A fun quick read that kicks off in Sophie Sayers’ garden…

I’ve just published a new story, The Clutch of Eggs, that starts off with an episode in Sophie’s garden, when her cat Blossom brings her in a wild bird’s egg, unleashing a comical chain of events that ends up putting Wendlebury Barrow on the map for all the wrong reasons.

A quick read (a third the length of one of my novels) in my Tales from Wendlebury Barrow series, features all the regular characters from the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, as well as some engaging new ones, including a handsome tourist, a trio of birdwatching brothers, and an affectionate dachshund named Bunty.

The Clutch of Eggs is now available as a a postcard-sized paperback (6″ x 4″) and in all the popular ebook formats. You’ll find the buying links for both below.

In the meantime, here’s the opening chapter to whet your appetite.


CHAPTER 1 – The Foundling Egg

“Look at this, Hector!”

I held out my hand to reveal what I’d carried so carefully all the way from my cottage to Hector’s House, the village bookshop.

Instead of giving me my usual morning hug before flipping the door sign to “open”, Hector (my boyfriend as well as my boss) stood back in awe of the object’s fragility.

“What’s that, your breakfast? It’s a bit on the small side. You’re not on a diet, are you?”

I stroked the pristine white shell with my fingertip.

“No, silly, it’s a bird’s egg. What sort of monster do you take me for? I don’t eat birds’ eggs for breakfast. Apart from hens’ eggs, I mean.”

I was glad I’d had toast that morning instead.

“That’s no hen’s egg. It’s far too small. Did you get it from the village shop? I’d heard Carol had started stocking quails’ eggs, but I thought they were speckled.”

“Yes, she has, and they are. She’s thrilled to have something to put on her Q shelf at last.” Carol organises her stock alphabetically to make things easier to find. “But I’ve no idea what sort of bird laid this egg.”

Hector slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out the key to his flat above the bookshop.

“I’ll fetch the vintage Observer’s Book of Birds’ Eggs from my curiosities collection upstairs. That’ll help us identify it.”

He turned the door sign to “open” before dashing outside and disappearing round the corner of the shop.

“What if it’s not a vintage bird?” I called after him, but his footsteps were already pounding up the stairs to his flat.

I like to tease Hector about the funny old books that fill his spare bedroom. He’s never read most of them, he just likes the look and feel of them. I can’t understand why he doesn’t add a second-hand department to the shop. He’d have more than enough stock, and it would provide a useful source of extra income for the business. We’re always looking for new income streams. It’s not easy keeping a rural bookshop in profit.

The sun was shining brightly now, so, still cradling the egg with my spare hand, I propped the door open with our cast-iron doorstop, which is shaped like a pile of old books. The fresh spring air was full of the scent of new leaves, the shrubs and trees along the high street acid green with new growth. I lingered on the threshold for a deep breath before going back inside, where I gently set my egg on the trade counter to await Hector’s verdict. To make sure it wouldn’t roll away and fall on the floor, I surrounded it with a little wall of stationery.

As Hector’s footsteps thundered back down the stairs, I headed for the tearoom, which is my domain, and fired up the coffee machine. We always start our working day with a caffeine fix. The smell of fresh coffee helps lure our first customers in off the street, too – mums returning from the school run.

Hector strode back into the shop brandishing a small hardback with a plain tan cover. Taking his usual seat at the trade counter, he started to flick through its yellowing pages. He didn’t look up when I set down in front of him a tiny espresso cup branded with The Birds by Daphne du Maurier. My wit was wasted on him. To be fair, the book he was reading was engrossing. On almost every page there was a precise and beautiful watercolour illustration of a bird’s egg, each one different.

“Surprisingly few eggs seem to be plain white like yours. Or the same shape.”

I gazed at the egg nestling in its pen of pens.

“Surely it’s just egg-shaped? Hence the expression.”

He held the book up to show me.

“This one’s the right colour, but it’s longer and thinner than your egg, while this one is more rounded.” He paused at the swift’s page. “The swift’s is plain white, but it’s too long.”

“Isn’t it too early for a swift, anyway?”

“Yes, you’re right. They won’t arrive for another week or two yet.” He flicked through a few more pages. The lesser-spotted woodpecker lays small white eggs the right shape, but I doubt you’ve got a woodpecker in your garden. They’re a bit shy and more of a forest dweller. Besides, it says here they don’t start laying till May.” He looked up from the book. “You did find this egg in your garden, didn’t you?”

I beamed with pride.

“I didn’t. Blossom did. She brought it in to me this morning. Isn’t she clever?” Blossom is my kitten. Hector’s not keen on cats, but I thought this show of skill might raise her in his estimation. “Do you realise how gentle Blossom must have been to pick up something as fragile as an egg in her mouth without breaking it? To carry it all the way from wherever she found it to my kitchen? I think she meant it as a present for me.”

Hector moved the book closer to his eyes. The print was tiny. Encouraged by his silence, I continued.

“At first, I thought she’d squashed her ping-pong ball, but no. It’s as perfect an egg as you’ll find anywhere in nature.”

Hector harrumphed. “I just hope Blossom didn’t despatch the mother bird while she was at her nest.” He shot me a mournful look. “Although that would cut short the mother’s distress at losing her egg.”

A wave of vicarious guilt swept over me.

“There aren’t any nests in my garden,” I began, despite realising I hadn’t actually checked. Might nests be hidden among the fresh spring foliage? My dense evergreens would also provide perfect camouflage.

Our conversation was cut short by a hum of chatter approaching from the direction of the school, so Hector set down the book to continue his investigations later.

A chilly breeze struck up as the school run-mums arrived. Although reluctant to shut out the spring, I closed the door behind them.

It was only when I was starting to serve their coffee that I realised Hector hadn’t given me my morning hug.


Like to know what happens next? Here are the buying links again: 

As ever, if you read and enjoy this book, I would really appreciate it if you take a moment to leave a sentence or two on the website where you bought it saying why you liked it. Good reviews encourage other readers to buy my books! 

 

Author:

English author of warm, witty novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Staffroom at St Bride's School series, both set in the Cotswolds. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors and for the children's reading charity, Read for Good. Public speaker for the Type 1 Diabetes charity JDRF.

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