Skip to content

The mad English garden.

THE DAY BEGAN, as it so often does, with a mild grumble at the state of the world. Or more specifically, the state of the nation. I’d read a piece by Simon Jenkins, complaining about the government’s intention to allow developers to build homes all over the green belt. Indeed, all over any green bit they can find outside the towns and cities. That includes where I live, in the quiet rural environs of just-beyond-Lincoln. Not only are there plans to drive an eastern bypass between us and the city, but developers are also arranging their retirement pots on laying down thousands of homes on every slope from here to the centre of town.

Reading Jenkins inevitably roused my Inner Angry Retired Colonel by making me remember the immense and costly fiasco that High Speed Two is going to be, although that, luckily, will not come anywhere near Lincolnshire. Then I thought of the notion being bruited abroad that what Lincolnshire needs is a bloody great motorway driving right up its middle, connecting the wealthy sophistication of Cambridge with the nether regions of the Humber.

Once the Inner Colonel was activated I could barely restrain him. I heard him (in my head, of course, because I didn’t want to bore the wife again) lambasting the politically correct prodnoses from going on about gay marriage, equality and saving the bloody planet by switching off everything electrical for an hour for every year, and God knows what else. All that before I’d even picked up the Guardian.

But then I had to take the grandson to his kickboxing session in a nearby village. My mood lightened as I drove us through the countryside, and calm descended upon the Inner Colonel, who retired to his garden shed for a smoke of his pipe.

A LIGHT MIST lay across the fields and fen while a wide blue sky shone above. “Big” is the proper word to describe Lincolnshire sky, because it is truly big. Not in a northern USA or Russian steppe kind of way, because they’re just insanely massive, but bigger-than-you’d-think-possible-in-a-British-context big. Flowers were coming into bloom or were already blooming along the roadside and in gardens, the birds were singing away while others were gathering material for their nests. A bunch of horses still wearing their winter coats rubbed nuzzles together in a field. I could almost have quoted Browning — “God’s in his heaven, All’s right with the world,” especially in England — except I was more concerned with avoiding the numerous cyclists on the way. Why couldn’t God make them stick to the side roads?

Once the boy went off to kick and box I spent the following hour walking around the village, trying to look like a local and not like an Eastern European criminal scoping the place for easy pickings in the lead and copper departments. I did this by making a point of saying hello to everyone I passed — a greeting usually reciprocated. I reckoned they’d think nobody who wanted to dig up copper cable connecting the place to the outside world would be daft enough to go round the village introducing himself to everyone he met.

I walked around the graveyard of the local church, whose origins date back to the time of the Anglo-Saxons. That original church was destroyed by the pesky Vikings, a race of warriors now sadly reduced to banning Marmite and wishing their countries were more like Africa. We can be thankful for that, I suppose, since they’re not ever going to return in their longships to rape and pillage again. Then I saw, at the back, stuck on the blocked up door leading under the church, a note:


It could do with punctuation, granted, but there was something marvellous about its attempt to make its point by conjuring up a Gothic atmosphere straight out of Dracula. So much more informal than a regular “keep out!”

In the rest of the village I observed the variety of buildings, artisan and labourers’ cottages, and old chapels, warehouses and shops now converted to dwellings. There was an awful lot of ivy topping old walls or encroaching on long-locked doors. I saw a single tree absolutely blazing with white blossom. It was all delightfully rural and rustic.

What thrilled me most of all, however, was coming across the Mad English Garden.

This was a simple front garden on one of the main streets. It was mad in a typically English way: with lumps of rock and small areas of gravel, planted with bright flowers, including daffodils both real and plastic, heather and lavender in pots and in clumps; populated with grey concrete bird baths, rabbits and fauns, the occasional gnome, geese and what looked like a heron. It wasn’t a big garden; it was quite modest, but it was large enough for the eccentricity of the owner to display itself. It would have been easy not to notice its singularity as you walked past on your way to the Post Office shop or the pub.

That’s what cheered me up about it: its quiet combination of sentimentality and self-determination. It was as if the owner were saying, “I know concrete gnomes and bunnies are naff, but I don’t care. This is my garden and if I want them stuck between clumps of heather and lavender and potted daffs that’s what I shall have. Because they make me happy. And this is England, where we do such things. If you don’t like that, then be on your way.”

In such small plots individualism still persists, thank heaven, along with informal notices that use the word “dank”.

By the time we drove back, the mist had lifted and the great green glory of the English landscape lay before us. And just for a moment both and I the Inner Colonel were at peace.

Michael Blackburn.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x