A London Garden by A. A. Milne

I have always wanted a garden of my own. Other people’s gardens are all very well, but the visitor never sees them at their best. He comes down in June, perhaps, and says something polite about the roses. “You ought to have seen them last year,” says his host disparagingly, and the visitor represses with difficulty the retort, “You ought to have asked me down to see them last year.” Or, perhaps, he comes down in August, and lingers for a moment beneath the fig-tree. “Poor show of figs,” says the host, “I don’t know what’s happened to them. Now we had a record crop of raspberries. Never seen them so plentiful before.” And the visitor has to console himself with the thought of the raspberries which he has never seen, and will probably miss again next year. It is not very comforting.

Give me, therefore, a garden of my own. Let me grow my own flowers, and watch over them from seedhood to senility. Then shall I miss nothing of their glory, and when visitors come I can impress them with my stories of the wonderful show of groundsel which we had last year.

For the moment I am contenting myself with groundsel. To judge by the present state of the garden, the last owner must have prided himself chiefly on his splendid show of canaries. Indeed, it would not surprise me to hear that he referred to his garden as “the back-yard.” This would take the heart out of anything which was trying to flower there, and it is only natural that, with the exception of the three groundsel beds, the garden is now a wilderness. Perhaps “wilderness” gives you a misleading impression of space, the actual size of the pleasaunce being about two hollyhocks by one, but it is the correct word to describe the air of neglect which hangs over the place. However, I am going to alter that.

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With a garden of this size, though, one has to be careful. One cannot decide lightly upon a croquet-lawn here, an orchard there, and a rockery in the corner; one has to go all out for the one particular thing, whether it is the last hoop and the stick of a croquet-lawn, a mulberry-tree, or an herbaceous border. Which do we want most–a fruit garden, a flower garden, or a water garden? Sometimes I think fondly of a water garden, with a few perennial gold-fish flashing swiftly across it, and ourselves walking idly by the margin and pointing them out to our visitors; and then I realize sadly that, by the time an adequate margin has been provided for ourselves and our visitors, there will be no room left for the gold-fish.

At the back of my garden I have a high brick wall. To whom the bricks actually belong I cannot say, but at any rate I own the surface rights on this side of it. One of my ideas is to treat it as the back cloth of a stage, and paint a vista on it. A long avenue of immemorial elms, leading up to a gardener’s lodge at the top of the wall–I mean at the end of the avenue–might create a pleasing impression. My workroom leads out into the garden, and I have a feeling that, if the door of this room were opened, and then hastily closed again on the plea that I mustn’t be disturbed, a visitor might obtain such a glimpse of the avenue and the gardener’s lodge as would convince him that I had come into property. He might even make an offer for the estate, if he were set upon a country house in the heart of London.

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But you have probably guessed already the difficulty in the way of my vista. The back wall extends into the gardens of the householders on each side of me. They might refuse to co-operate with me; they might insist on retaining the blank ugliness of theirs walls, or endeavouring (as they endeavour now, I believe) to grow some unenterprising creeper up them; with the result that my vista would fail to create the necessary illusion when looked at from the side, This would mean that our guests would have to remain in one position, and that even in this position they would have to stand to attention–a state of things which might mar their enjoyment of our hospitality. Until, then, our neighbours give me a free hand with their segments of the wall, the vista must remain a beautiful dream.

However, there are other possibilities. Since there is no room in the garden for a watchdog and a garden, it might be a good idea to paint a phosphorescent and terrifying watchdog on the wall. Perhaps a watchlion would be even more terrifying–and, presumably, just as easy to paint. Any burglar would be deterred if he came across a lion suddenly in the back garden. One way or another, it should be possible to have something a little more interesting than mere bricks at the end of the estate.

And if the worst comes to the worst–if it is found that no flowers (other than groundsel) will flourish in my garden, owing to lack of soil or lack of sun–then the flowers must be painted on the walls. This would have its advantages, for we should waste no time over the early and uninteresting stages of the plant, but depict it at once in its full glory. And we should keep our garden up to date. When delphiniums went out of season, we should rub them out and give you chrysanthemums; and if an untimely storm uprooted the chrysanthemums, in an hour or two we should have a wonderful show of dahlias to take their place. And we should still have the floor-space free for a sundial, or–if you insist on exercise–for the last hoop and the stick of a full-sized croquet-lawn.

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