Some months ago I was intrigued enough by this post by the my fellow Margery Sharpite Rebecca Rose, aka GenusRosa, to seek out from antiquarian booksellers in England all three of Ethel Armitage’s garden journals, published in 1936, 1939, and 1946.
I am overdue in my thanks; these books are things of joy to the reader-gardener, being that perfectly balanced sort of garden writing which delights by its personal asides and anecdotes as much as by its descriptions of garden flora.
Without further ado, a Valentine’s Day observation from (one might assume) 1935 or thereabouts, from Ethel Armitage’s first book, A Country Garden, 1936. Engravings by John Farleigh enhance this first edition, published by Country Life Books.
14th. One hears that valentines are coming into fashion again, though none came this way, nor would it really be very suitable if they did.
But valentine or no valentine, the day brings a certain excitement with it, for the birds are supposed to pair, though many of them have anticipated the date and evidently gone off to Gretna Green. The rooks have been busy for some little time, and their nests look as transparent and draughty as ever. How terrified the young birds must be perched up so high; how frightened they must feel when the wind blows strong and, all day long, they sway from side to side! One can only hope they do not realize their peril when a brother or a sister is jerked from the nest and disappears into space. Probably all they are able to think about is food, and it is not until later on they grow wise and wear sleek black coats and sit in Parliament dealing out justice to the bad rooks who do not conform to the law.
Almost every year a pair attempts to build in one of our trees, but whenever this happens the other rooks come and tear the nest to pieces. We should very much like to have rooks here, but it is evidently against their policy, or else we are not considered worthy to possess a rookery. We prefer to think the rooks have a town planning scheme of their own, and that we are scheduled as an area unsuitable for building purposes, than that our characters are at fault in this matter.
After all a valentine did arrive. It came by the second post, and is a book on garden pests, and though most interesting in its way, we fear it makes no mention of the pests from which we suffer most, such as sheep and chickens and pigs, and even cows, all of which have, from time to time, visited us. Two goats once passed through the garden and, though their owner declared they possessed the very highest pedigree and were extremely particular about their food, they removed all the Brussels sprouts and a large fuchsia bush before they were hurried out. One year thirteen young pigs – truly an unlucky number except for the pigs – accounted for all the spring cabbages, and after them several ducks came and flattened out most of the lettuce.
But the worst pest we ever had was a bull.
At the end of a beautiful, but very hot summer day, we had gone out into the garden, partly to enjoy the cool of the evening and partly to do a little much needed weeding. Happening to look up from my task I saw a large red bull coming slowly up the little drive; as I hurried into the house I shouted the dire news to B., who was in another part of the garden, and just heard his answer of ‘oh rot’, as I slammed the front door.
The bull, most fortunately, turned on to the lawn, and from the windows could be seen browsing on-of all things -the roses. He tore two bushes from the ground, but not caring much about their flavour or the thorns, left them lying on the grass. In the meantime B., having gained the house, was telephoning to the bailiff, who, before much more damage was done, sent help, and, as they say in the news- papers, a capture was effected.
But that visit had rather far-reaching consequences, for the two rose bushes had been given by an elderly cousin whose taste in plants did not always coincide with ours. Unluckily she suspected this, so when she came to see us she always took particular care to inspect any plant she had sent. Now, how could she possibly be told that her two especial roses had been destroyed by a bull; why should he have selected those and no others? It was altogether too tall a story: one could not even expect her to believe it.
So when, the following week, she came, some quite unconvincing tale was invented, and was told in so halting a manner that, from the very first moment, it was obvious she believed it to be untrue. Since then there has been a distinct coldness towards us, and we have received neither plants nor anything else.
So we hope this new book will give some hints as to the best way of keeping bulls and other beasts of prey out of the garden.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you all, dear fellow readers. May this day bring you some sort of suitable treat, whether book, flower, message from a friend (or lover!); something delicious and to your taste, whatever it may be.