Pebble gardens

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The farmyard was on one side of the wall, and on the other lay the secluded garden: a garden entirely surrounded by walls sheltering old fruit trees and bushes, vegetables, and a modest pattern of roses set out in surprising formality among the squares of grass. The top of the wall consisted of large, flat stones and was wide enough to sit on, the ideal vantage point from which to watch the activity in the yard without becoming too involved. The sheep dip was immediately beneath the wall, and long-suffering animals frequently had a row of interested spectators encouraging them from aloft.

It was moss growing in cracks and crevices that first aroused my interest, and on those warm, flat stones small gardens began to appear. It was the wall, looming from far back, casting a friendly shadow, that suggested these two children should make a miniature garden for the village flower show. Squatting on the grass now, watching and listening to them, the warmth of the grey flagstones crept up and my fingers itched to press down the moss and arrange a sprig of conifer. But it was their garden; there must be no encroachment, so I withdraw again, letting them drift in and out of their discussion about twisting pebble paths and arrangements of flowerheads and twigs.

It was easy to become lost in that miniature world. Whole villages were made, twig houses sprouting out of the deep green moss connected by road systems that became more and more elaborate, woods and patches of flowers. To my miniature self they were immense areas that entered into the land I had created, unaware of farm noises, clanking of churns, conversation of numerous animals, tractors - unaware until now, when I realize these sounds were there all the time, a continuous, unheard accompaniment to the secrecy of my wall-top world.

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Glancing at the pie-dish gardens these children made, I was tempted to cry out, ''Don't overcrowd them. Stop now, they're both beautiful.'' But they wanted to squash in all the flowers they had collected, and the jumble suddenly took on the haphazard appearance of an old cottage garden and was delightful. At this point they sat back. ''We've finished.'' Did I ever finish? The wall was long and those farm days held many other attractions. The garden was safe up there - no small boys could manage the climb. It grew through extended summer holidays, and while I remember clearly the beginnings, searching for suitable moss, there was no ending. Still upon that wall are layers of miniature gardens created over several summers. The train journey south to school each September spared me the anguish of seeing those flimsy shreds swept away by autumn gales. They are all always intact, just as I made them.

(Earlier this year we heard that the farm we left twenty years ago was up for auction. Did the price reflect the images and sounds of all those years, the quiet peace that drifted up from the sheltered garden to touch what I was doing? Did it take in the generosity of that wall?)

On the day of the flower show we carefully carried the pie dishes to the large marquee, where they were arranged according to age group on trestle tables. Later we returned to collect first and second prize and the smiles were unaffected by the fact there were only two entries in that group. The result was wholly satisfactory to everyone.

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