Can you imagine the unbridled joy and unequalled promise that may be derived from a pile of gravel?
Specifically, clean, pink-red gravel of an even thumb-tip size, delivered in a neat pile, just waiting for the shovelling. It is as exciting as a load of sheep manure, though far rarer, which lifts it a notch or two on the anticipation scale.
We have two main gravel areas in this garden which are well overdue for re-surfacing. It would be fifteen years since they were laid down and all things considered, have weathered very well, floods and all. However, the gravel is now sparse underfoot, especially where covering busier pathways. This makes their maintenance for weeds etc more constant and so, over time, they become less practical. The children referred to one particular gravel area as the path of death; I believe this alluded to the barefoot agony they endured when whizzing along on their daily romps. This section of gravel even slowed down the battle march of the Campbell Clan.
If I were starting my garden again and had access to a beautiful pile of gravel, I would lay a generous path of it all around the house, and then build the garden beds beyond. This would make for less under- the- house drainage issues and allow for easy access to both the back of the beds and the house. Without wishing to clutter the page with domestic drudgery, cleaning the windows here can be more of a Tarzan of the Jungle endurance test than a straightforward Mrs. Wishy-Washy splash about.
Other areas that lend themselves to a gravel solution, apart from paths of course, would be any struggling lawns losing the battle with too much shade, perhaps on the south side of the house? Maybe a utility area with bins and gas bottles and such, behind a screen or an area near the kitchen door with some potted herbs and a chair and a lime tree for your gin and tonic.
As ever in a garden, the arrival of this much-anticipated pile of gravel led to a keener assessment of the gravel area and its surrounds. This assessment took place last week as I waltzed up after breakfast to feed Lord Dudley and the pigeons, with a basket of washing under my arm. One of the lemon trees snagged me as I walked past and as I paused to unhitch myself, I was amazed at how they had all grown and how narrow the adjacent lawn was becoming. Honestly, I walk this path numerous times every day but suddenly I was seeing it with a critical eye and a snagged jumper. A re-design was called for and when inspiration dazzles, action must follow.
Luckily for me, The Patient Offsider was visiting; not only does he have untold depths of patience, he is young and strong, which makes him and excellent visitor indeed. The Impatient Gardener quickly armed him with a trolley and the game of a bit this way, can you turn it around oh maybe not there try here began. Eight large terracotta pots in all and in no time, they were all settled in new positions. Well, by lunch time anyway. How the time flies when you are having fun. The Impatient Gardener suggested a new gravel path framed with the two potted olives, so the lawn was promptly poisoned to await its new look gravel coat. Softened with catmint, seaside daisy or similar, it will look the part in no time and will make for a much- improved mowing line come summer.
The citrus will be far happier now they have been liberated from the clutches of the grape vines; the path to the stables no longer needs a machete and the lawn there will improve with more light and less pressure. All in all, a most satisfying result and all thanks to that wonderful pile of gravel, still awaiting a visit from the wheelbarrow.
Well, I actually have barrowed about forty loads by now, and it is looking very swish; a most satisfying crunch underfoot as you walk on it as well. Not that anyone will be walking on it of course, that would leave tracks in the gravel and I have just finished raking it again. Walk around the other way please.
Remember it is important to find a good path when you are following a wheelbarrow, lest you lose your load,
The Moble Gardener
Humour me if you will. Imagine a crime mystery in manner of Agatha Christie or similar with sincere apologies to both the genre and you all.
The Mystery of the Lost Moble Morning
Explanation of Characters and Setting:
A country house: old bush home held together with dust and cobwebs
Lady Splitfingers, Cook, Dickens, Elms and The Jobbing Gardener are all played by The Moble Gardener.
Lord Splitfingers and Chippie the Woodsman are played by Mr. Moble
The Hon. Mary Splitfingers, extra manpower and Staff are played by The Impatient Gardener
Mr. Peter Patience, extra manpower and Staff are played by The Patient Offsider
The Mayhem of Dogs is played by Win’fred and Mr.Biggles.
Assembled Crew refers to The Impatient Gardener and The Patient Offsider
The Club refers to the Moble Workshop
A rubber of Bridge refers to fixing the broken axel on the quad bike
See Stubbins about the pigeons refers to feeding the peacock, pigeons and ducks
Moving machinery and kit required to deal refers to a trolley
I am happy to inform readers that the Splitfingers now lead a tobacco free life.
The scene is set in a country house; Lord and Lady Splitfingers are in the Breakfast Room, discussing their plans for the day ahead. Lady Splitfingers has meetings with local committees various, she is a busy woman who could run a regiment. Always on task, never late. Lord Splitfingers mentioned he would be heading to his Club, see if he could find himself a rubber of bridge. The room is thick with the ubiquitous cigarette smoke found in such period dramas. All the Splitfingers smoke, all the time.
Kippers have been served for breakfast which Lady Splitfingers detests. She asked their Man, Dickens, to fetch Cook, which he grudgingly does. Lady Splitfingers admonishes Cook, reminding her how much she loathes fish, especially for breakfast. If one can’t eat it with an egg why bother?
Cook exchanges a pathological look with Dickens, driving a knife through the fresh loaf on the sideboard on her way out. Suspenseful music plays in the background. Lady Splitfingers stubs her cigarette out on her plate, Lord Splitfingers drops his on the carpet. He is a firm believer that cigarette ash keeps the moths away and deters the dogs from peeing on the curtains.
Well I’m orf Henry, I have to see Stubbins about the pigeons and then I shall be in the Business room all morning: the dear little Bettongs are under threat again, we need some new trading partners for pretty much everything we produce here and I promised the accountant I would have a look at a little tax idea I came upon. You have a nice time at the Club, will you be in for luncheon?
Lord Splitfingers nods and then his face lights up as their daughter, the Hon. Mary Splitfingers enters with a mayhem of dogs at her heels. Her friend, Mr. Peter Patience is with her and they all pause for a moment to light up before Lady S explains she is too busy to stop and chat; Cook has lost the plot and she has to meet with Stubbins before the Save the Bettong committee meeting. She leaves by the side door which leads onto the garden.
Striding up through the garden to meet Stubbins, she is struck by how much the citrus have grown. Why hadn’t Elms dealt with this? One can hardly get through to the stables without a machete. This briefly took her back to her Rangoon days before she shook such jungle thoughts from her busy mind and called out, in a voice that could rally men to battle and quite possibly had.
In due course, Elms shuffles up wheeling a barrow and doffs his cap to M’Lady. Mary and Peter have joined Lady S; Mary knows the call to battle well and is always keen to see some action. With her expert and exacting eye, Lady S has summed up the situation and is already formulating her battle plan. Elms is sent off to recruit some extra manpower and the kit required to deal. He sets off sedately with an empty wheelbarrow and even less enthusiasm, a trail of blue pipe smoke drifting in his exceedingly slow wake.
Like a game of chess, Lady S considered her strategies and outcomes. Obviously, the citrus had completely outgrown their positions, and many were now firmly entwined in last season’s grapevine growth. Two olives and six citrus various all needing new homes in a game of shuffle and shift, trial and error.
Mary suggested the gravel garden be extended out and the olives placed as an entrance. Lady S seized on this idea and when the moving machinery arrived, the olives were shifted to frame the Mulberry tree centred in the gravel garden. The lawn path was duly poisoned by the Jobbing Gardener in anticipation of the gravel to cover later.
Lady S now considered the shape of the pots as well as the trees, for some pots were matching. These three were carefully extracted from the grape, Elms muttering through his pipe all the while about pruning methods and fanciful ideas. Much heaving and hauling later, they were moved to the eastern side of the vegetable garden beds, where the olives had been. Here there will be no battle for space with the grapes, nor will they suffer the full force of the afternoon sun in summer.
The pots sit on steel rims filled with gravel, so Elms was sent scurrying for wheelbarrow loads of gravel, ensuring all was ready when the rather awkward, large, and heavy trees arrived at their new positions. All the while, frenetic music plays, perhaps the William Tell Overture?
Lady Splitfingers and Mary decide one pot must now be sited in front of a gidgee tree, to complete the line. So, Chippie the Woodsman is sent for to remove an overhanging branch. Luckily, he was nearby, and Elms took the opportunity to light his pipe and wipe his brow. With the branch sawn off and loaded into the trailer, the lime tree is hauled into place by the staff and Lady S and Mary nod their approval.
There is muttering and low growling as the final pot is considered by the assembled crew. The enormous lemon tree which has been hauled around into several places, none of which were quite right. Staff were becoming unsettled and there is much exchanging of meaningful, dark looks.
Lady S and Mary set off around the garden, oblivious to the brewing atmosphere, searching for the perfect spot. After a quick march around the entire garden, they agreed on its placement and staff were once again engaged to move the last monolith into its new position, near the kitchen deck. Perfect for Cook, who had been acting rather strangely of late. Lady S recalled the late Lord Splitfingers’ adage that there are three types of cook: cooks, cuckoos, and plain bloody murderers. Ominous music plays in the background.
Meanwhile, a rather frazzled Dickens had been run off his feet all morning, answering the door to various groups gathering for their meetings with Lady Splitfingers. Between the telephone and the doorbell, he was frantic; M’Lady could not be found. This was implausible, she was always on task and never missed her deadlines. With a feeling of dread, he recalled the look he had exchanged with Cook that morning, and the bread knife ominously plunged into the brown loaf.
Just as he telephones for Miss Marple, Lord Splitfingers returns from the Club, looking for his lunch. Fearing the worst, as nothing would keep Lady S from her meetings, Dickens begins to break the news of her disappearance when, sharpen your wits, who should burst through the side door but Lady S herself, with Mary and Peter and a mayhem of dogs at their heels.
Oblivious (as always) to the drama she had caused, she was, all the same, taken aback that it was lunch time; and she still had not seen Stubbins about the pigeons. Where had the time gone? A very relieved Dickens quietly put the telephone down, safe in the knowledge that the Garden was the reason for the lost morning, not Cook.
Luncheon was duly served: fish, with a side dish of lemons, all with little knives sticking out of them like toothpicks.
Dickens, fetch Cook, will you?