I was hanging out the washing in the back garden, as I do infrequently,
a woman who was walking down the road strolled into the garden and stopped
for a chat about the weather, the state of the nation and such matters. In
those days the garden was unfenced, you see, but not any more. Staring at
in some amazement I wondered if this was just a localized way of
oneself to new people, or was it - I suspiciously conjectured - simply a
short cut habitually taken? After a couple of minutes of one sided idle
chit-chat over the washing line, during which my growing annoyance was
camouflaged by inane grinning, she continued diagonally through next
garden and casually left the premises via a small gap in their leylandii
This incident happened a number of years ago now, shortly after we moved
a nice little cottage with a half-acre garden in the Scottish Borders and
reminds me of another strange encounter that happened soon afterwards. I
struggling to erect a fence around the property, a fence to keep strange
women out, the sort of strange women who wander willy-nilly about your
garden, when I spied an old lady leering at me over the Copper Beech
She looked me in the eye, very canny she was, and barked: "Are you
Well of course I was, I assured her, even though I wasn't at the time,
this seem to do the trick. I grinned inanely at her throughout the
of this short interrogation and then, looking supremely satisfied with
herself, she strode manfully down the road and out of sight, never to be
or heard of again. Once more I had encountered strange behaviors whilst
pottering innocently about the garden. Whatever next?
This nice little cottage that we moved into, with its half acre garden,
our home for a number of years. It came with an untidy garden, a sort of
rambling mix of over-grown vegetable patches, a few apple trees, a
but productive plum tree, grass for the children to run about and play on
a large area overtaken by broom, thistles, long grasses and nettles. It
our 'wildlife garden' as we came to call it, for it was clear that lack of
money to buy basic tools, let alone hire a strimmer or a cultivator, meant
that we wouldn't be reclaiming it for many years to come. But a messy
of over-grown garden can be transformed into a 'wildlife' garden by a
leap of the imagination of course, and so that's what we did: we simply
called it a 'wildlife garden', then admired any wildlife that we spotted
Along the western boundary of the garden we also inherited a Copper Beech
hedge, a hedge in need of some care and attention, and the aforementioned
Copper Beech hedge across which the old lady had leered at me. During the
early years I spent a lot of time on this particular hedge until finally
became a source of much pride and joy. Initially it was a low and straggly
thing, a bad excuse for a hedge really, over-run with ragwort, nettles and
weeds. There was even a giant rhubarb in the middle of it. But I tended
I shaped it, I nurtured it, and eventually it blossomed into a fine
of hedging, a hedge to be proud of, a garden feature, an horticultural
achievement. I concentrated on height as well, for I wanted it high enough
to ensure privacy - and in particular privacy from the likes of strange
ladies and nosy passers-by.
Then we went away on holiday, a Summer break in the sun, returning two
later to discover that the Copper Beech hedge had lost two foot in
Good grief, it was two foot shorter, not the sort of thing that you expect
happen when you go away on holiday, is it? Good heavens, what sort of
character lops two foot off your prized hedge when you're back is turned?
After a great deal of detective work I discovered that it was Roger, the
taxidermist next door, so a few days later I confronted him as he was
out his dustbin.
"Do you know, Roger," I said, "some swine cut my Copper Beech? Now who on
earth did that?
"It was me," admitted Roger, tugging nervously on his white beard before
going on to tell me sheepishly that he'd chopped it with his chainsaw. And
why? Because his wife had told him to, you see, as it obscured visibility
turning out of the shared driveway onto the main road, a problem that had
been driving her 'nuts' for months apparently, although for some strange
reason they'd neglected mentioning it to me.
For the sake of neighbourly relations I refrained from depositing him
down in his own dustbin, sorely tempted though I was, but instead vowed to
mutter and mumble loudly "Some swine cut my Copper Beech" whenever he
ventured within earshot.
And so the moral of the tale is clear.
"Never trust a bearded taxidermist called Roger, particularly if he lives
next door, for as sure as Winter follows Summer, or Summer follows Winter,
he'll mutilate your Copper Beech with a chain saw and blame it on his
Now let that be a lesson to us all.
(Copy right 2002 Patrick Vickery)