"To me all woods are enchanted. I cannot imagine being lonely in them."

"To go to the greenhouse when the weather is wild, to close the door, to stand and listen to the wind outside, to the rain that slashes the frail roof, to see, through the misted glass, the black, storm-tossed branches of distant elms, to take a deep breath, to savour to the full the strange and almost uncanny peace which this frail tenement creates ... to me this is one of the truest joys which life has given."

"I have a horror of endings, of farewells, of every sort of death ... I believe that my love for winter flowers has its secret in this neurosis ... if one may dignify the condition by such a word. I want my garden to go on. I cannot bear to think of it as a place that may be tenanted only in the easy months. I will not have it draped with Nature's dust sheets."

"A garden can make or mar a friendship. It brings out all sorts of hidden virtues and unsuspected vices. By no means all of my friends are gardeners and I never say to people 'would you like to look at the garden?' because any lover of gardens, even if he sees only a lawn and a solitary herbaceous border, will ask to see it himself."

Excerpts from Down the Garden Path

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.'

'I have.'

'What is it?'

'It is being Done For Me,' I said.

'By whom?'

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 weeks.

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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