Friday, 12 April 2013

Scale In The Garden


The illusionist can make this village....

......give the wrong impression

I don't know how babysitting is arranged now, but back in the '70's we were in a circle whereby a group of you were involved in taking turns to look after each others kids while the parents had an evening out. It was about the time that a father's role was becoming more inclusive - the inception of 'the modern man' - and this meant that dads sometimes did the sitting. Whether this still happens, with the pedophile problem   casting a suspicious shadow over any bloke left alone with children, I don't know. However, this was then:

I was sick of my wife moaning that only women were expected to do the sitting, so when she mentioned that someone wanted a sitter and didn't mind a bloke doing it, I was willing. After all, as I kept telling her, 'there's nothing to it. Just a matter of  sitting there reading or watching telly and eating the nice supper they leave out for you. Most of the time you never even see the kids. They're  upstairs, tucked up in bed'.

The children involved on this occasion were two little girls aged about four and six. As expected, they were already in bed when I got there, and I settled down in front of the telly for a restful, food laden evening (they'd even left a can of beer). All went well for about and hour and then I nearly had a heart attack when a small voice piped up at my elbow.

"My sister's been sick", said the voice, which belonged to the older of the two. My stomach sank.
"Oh dear", I said, "you'd better show me where she is". So I was shown up to the bedroom where the four year old sat mournfully surveying the horrendous mess on her sheets. At this point the rosy picture I had of baby sitting began to get a bit misty. I took the bed covers, swilled them off as best I could and searched, with the aid of the older sister, until I found some clean stuff which I used to remake the bed.

'Right', I thought with satisfaction, 'tuck them in, then back to the telly. 'Carnal Knowledge', with Art Garfunkel, was due to start. However this was not to be, because the spokesperson spoke up again:
"My sister thinks she would be better off downstairs with you", she said. I was impressed with this information because not a word had passed between the two, leading to the impression that thought transference was taking place.

"I don't think...." I started to say, then the four year old's face started to pucker in what I later diagnosed as a carefully choreographed  part of an impressive con, and I hastily backtracked. "Alright, I said reluctantly, "come on". And I sat in the middle of the settee, a four year old on one side and her senior by two years on the other, watching 'Carnal Knowledge'. The propriety of this situation was becoming a question mark in my mind so, with a sigh, I switched it off. We gazed at the blank screen for a few seconds before the spokesperson made one of her rare but invariably meaningful comments:

"My sister can do projectile vomitin' ", she said.

"Ah", I said, nodding sagely and still looking mournfully at the screen, "that's interesting".

Unfortunately the younger one must have seen this as a signal for a demonstration of this enviable art: without  warning she suddenly disgorged a solid horizontal column of vomit halfway across the room, causing a piece of part -digested carrot to drip down where Art Garfunkel's prematurely balding head had occupied the screen only moments before.

"Christ!", I bellowed (earning a disapproving look from the spokesperson). In a panic, I grabbed the vomiter, holding her so that the puke gathered in a pool over her stomach. Then I carried her, using her body like a bowl to stop the stuff getting everywhere, rushed upstairs and plonked her in the bath. This turn of affairs didn't seem to be to her satisfaction and she began wailing.

"Told you", said her sister, gazing at her with some pride, "she can do projectile vomitin' ".

I was beginning to panic and did my John Cleese walk round the bathroom a couple of times before rushing headlong downstairs and ringing my wife.

"One of 'em's puked all over the bloody house", I bawled, "we're inches deep in it. What the hell do I do?".

There was a short silence, then: "Clean her up and put some clean clothes on her", she said in a maddeningly sensible voice.

"But I don't know where anything is and she might do it again".

"Well, I can't help from here, can I?", she said ,before adding maliciously "anyway, there's nothing to babysitting, is there? Look, I'm missing an interesting film on the telly. It's Art Garfunkel". And she put the phone down.

"My sister's upset", came the voice from my elbow as I gazed in speechless indignation at the telephone. I could tell that. Probably the whole street could tell. Apart from meriting  place in The Guinness Book of Records for the volume and distance of a single projectile vomit, the four year old had a pair of lungs to rival a football team of opera singers. I rushed back up the stairs, picked her up, tipped all the vomit out of her middle, then told her to wait while we hunted for clean pyjamas. The puke blocked the bath plughole and, by the time I'd cleared it, I was almost ready to make my own contribution.

Eventually we were back where we started, on the settee. The patient had been showered down and was now clad in clean clothes. She was clutching a large baking bowl intended for damage limitation in case of further demonstrations of her art. We were like this when Mum and Dad got home. Their entrance had coincided with the appearance on the screen of 'The Amityville Horror' as I'd flipped through programmes looking for something suitable for a four-year-old. Mum listened to my account of the evening's events thoughtfully, one disdainful eye on the television. I felt the need to point out that, for some reason, they don't put 'Watch With Mother' on at midnight, but in the end couldn't be bothered.

"Yes", said Mum, "I meant to mention the vomiting. She's been doing it a lot lately". I gaped at her. Unbe- sodding-lievable! By not telling me she'd treated me to an evening which had out - Amity'd Amityville and would live with me for the rest of my life.

"He said 'Christ!', mummy", said a small accusing voice by my elbow, then, to complete the broadside: "and 'bloody". That was when the Venus and Mars observation about men and women came to mind, because Mum looked thunderously ready to launch into an attack on my (highly justified, I felt) use of vocabulary, while Dad, lurking in the background, was definitely smirking.

And it was the scale of this event - one little girl erupting like Vesuvius- which naturally led me to think of the importance of scale in the garden. I've mentioned before that a damn big King Alfred daffodil on a two foot rockery would completely destroy the 'miniature mountain' aspect of the feature, and it's worth harping on about for a while. Determining the ultimate size and spread of a plant can make all the difference to its aesthetic effect on the garden. Obviously a large plant at the front of a border will destroy appreciation of a small one behind it in the same way that a giant redwood in a twenty foot plot may be a bit over- prominent, but there are a number of more subtle ways of influencing the way a garden is seen.

His lordship's drive
The good Gardener is an illusionist. He (she) makes you see what he or she wants, rather than what is actually there. In days of yore, when his lordship had a few thousand acres, he would plant a magnificent avenue of trees which seemed to gradually merge into the distance. More recently, when Fred Smith moved in next door, he hadn't got quite the same acreage to play with, so he cheated: he planted the trees closer together the further from the house they were, and gradually narrowed the drive until it reached the gate. Presumably he could further enhance the effect by walking in at the gate all hunched up, gradually straightening as he got closer to the house. While attempting this may seem a bit extreme, a similar effect can be created by drawing  borders together the further they are distanced from the main viewing point, which is usually the house. Even poaching someone else's feature is in the rule book: an interesting looking tree or shrub a few gardens away can be drawn  to the eye by dropping the height of your shrubbery or hedge at a strategic point.

Colour can also be a useful tool in helping to make a small garden appear bigger: with bright shades to the fore and more pastely ones to the rear, a feeling of greater depth is achieved.

Hiding an ugly feature beyond the end of your garden is something which is usually attempted by putting a tall barrier, like a leyland hedge along the edge of your property. However, the hedge itself can become a maintenance problem when it has to be very high to achieve this. A less obvious, though more effective, idea is to position a pergola  relatively close to the main viewing point so that its top structure and the plants it supports hide the unwanted view of the eyesore. At the same time, it frames the desired view of your garden. You are being an illusionist again, concentrating eye on what you want the audience to see. A similar effect could be achieved using a tree with its canopy trimmed at a height which enables it to works in the same way as the pergola.

As with most aspects of the garden, it pays to give plenty of thought to planning. Don't just bang features in -think. You want to be an illusionist, but it's best to avoid Tommy Cooper pitfalls. Remember how brilliant he seemed on the odd time that he got it right.

Just like that.

1 comment:

  1. Oh I so remember that night! I think the children concerned will remember it too. I don't remember you volunteering to babysit again - even for the supper and beer.