My Week: Down in the forest bark, something stirred

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The Independent Online
Monday 6.55am - I awake to the sound of Radio 4. The coming week seems as if it will be dry, so I decide to forsake my main career as Chief Housekeeper and take up my secondary calling of Assistant Gardener.

Today we are having forest bark delivered for the two island flower-beds, having been told that it saves hours of work and energy. The van driver arrives at 9am and unloads the bales. I explain to him that our long drive has an awkward bend in it that makes it difficult to reverse down. He assures me that it will be no problem and waves goodbye cheerily. I wave back dolefully as he very gently and slowly backs over my pansy-beds that line the drive.

I apply the forest bark. I speak rather harshly to my tame blackbird who now hand-feeds and follows me everywhere, expecting nourishment every two minutes. She retaliates by bringing her family to forage in the forest bark. They delight in removing it from the flower-beds to the lawns. I note signs of cat-dirt and spread pepper-dust. I sweep the forest bark back.

Tuesday - I sweep the bark back into the flower-beds and respread the pepper-dust after noticing more tell-tale signs. My neighbour offers me some parsley plants over the fence. I tell him I have already planted some, but they are being rather slow in germinating. When he learns I sowed them six weeks ago, he makes several scathing comments: but, as he is 95 and has never been blessed with tact, I forgive him mentally and accept his plants.

I find a space tailor-made for the parsley and vigorously prepare the soil, hoe and plant up. As I am water5ing, I see a sign left by the 'Head Gardener' - ANEMONES. PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB. I pocket the sign, hoping he will have forgotten. I notice the beans have emerged and will need netting tomorrow. I sweep the forest bark back into the flower-beds.

Wednesday - I sweep the forest bark back into the flower-beds. I take the net to the beans and discover that the crows have found them first. I re-prepare the bean-bed and re-sow the beans. My friendly blackbird follows me along the row, heaving out every bean I put in. I spread pepper-dust on the lawn and sweep up the forest bark again.

Thursday 2am - The security light comes on and I get up to identify the cat that is defiling my lawn. I discover a large hedgehog contentedly ambling over the grass. At 9am I sweep the pepper dust from the lawn and put the forest bark back on the flower-beds. During the afternoon an enormous pheasant meanders up the drive. I have not the heart to chase him, so I sit in the sun and watch as he enjoys polyanthus for lunch and settles himself for a post-prandial snooze on the herbaceous border. When he leaves I discover he has been sitting on the new shoots of my day-lily. I sweep the forest bark back on to the flower-beds.

Friday - I sweep up the forest bark. I realise that only one half of the plum tree is flowering. On closer inspection I see that one side is totally dead. I ring the local nursery who tell me that it will probably be canker and the tree will have to be destroyed. I notice that the slugs have been at the new lettuce plants. I edge the lawns - 90 minutes - in preparation for the 'Head Gardener' tomorrow. I sweep the forest bark from the lawn back on to the flower-beds.

Saturday - I wake to the sound of pouring rain. The 'Head Gardener' grunts blissfully and settles down to a second sleep. I mentally appoint him 'Assistant Housekeeper' for the weekend and work out various chores for him. I snuggle in and listen to the blackbirds happily spreading forest bark around the lawn.