Outside, a strange man on a machine is digging up my garden. Shifting the earth – scoop after scoop – then dumping it – till a huge brown pile forms against the fence, like a dinosaur dung heap. Suddenly, the machine shudders and stops. The man gets off and frowns, as if he’s found something.
What lies beneath? Not a body, surely. The previous owners of the property were a bit odd – mirrors everywhere – but seemed happy enough. But a bone or two? The remains of another king! Treasure was found in a field not far away: a hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver. A few Roman coins would do. But the fragment at his feet is only a common lump of concrete.
Another man is spraying paint on the lawn – neon yellow lines, to mark out shapes and boundaries, according to the Plan.
These men are ‘stripping out the site’: slicing plaster from brick, pulling out the picket fence, levering up the old broken slabs and dragging them away, filling a skip….Watch it all from the window, in shock and awe.
By the end of the first day, the garden has gone. The earth-moving excavator, cement-mixer and an upturned wheelbarrow are parked neatly on a wasteland, side by side, like tanks. Rain overnight turns the naked ground into mud.
Next day, a vast quantity of white stuff is spread on the mud – hardcore, they call it – then compacted by Darren on a different machine. Then he plugs in the mixer for the mortar. A dull whirring sound, like tinnitus. Then he tramps, scowling, into the kitchen, in search of a tap.
The sprayer crouches in black wellies and studies some pipes and the damp-proof course. This is Andy and his favourite subject is drainage, followed by foundations. He tells me the new patio will tilt away from the house. Not that you’ll notice, he adds hastily. I’ll mix a layer of sand into the subsoil, then…. My ‘just no puddles, please!’ seems to disappoint him.
More ground is broken. I’ve lost control of my borders! My poor lawn! High anxiety. Huge mistake? I’m spending a fortune to have my very first garden torn apart. ‘Remember’ – in a faint squeak – ‘don’t throw any good earth away!’ The vandals nod, then one tears an old timber panel from its base, while the other starts to wrestle with a manhole cover…
The resident birds are bemused, don’t know what to make of it all. They flap about for a bit then sit on the roof, at a safe distance.
A truck from Tippers turns up and offloads packs of stone in front of the house. Slabs of natural sandstone in shades of cream and pink, called Raj Buff, imported from India. For the random paving. The tumble blocks arrive, for the edging. A stack of wooden sleepers, like logs, soon lies near them, for the raised beds. The postman has an interesting journey towards the letterbox.
On the third day, deep holes are drilled into the backyard and a trench dug into the gravel drive. Stone is sawn, shaped and ground, filling the air with a fine, pale dust, as if from a desert. Escape – over a plank – to Aldi, but daren’t be off-site for long, in case something’s fixed in place that can’t be changed. Like the new wall very nearly built too close to the gas meter…
When I get back, Andy looks excited. Would I like to see the drain? An invitation hard to refuse. He wants me to appreciate an important pipe before it’s tidied underground and slabbed over for ever…
The Boss pops in to check on the Project’s Progress. A local family firm: Garden Solutions since 1988. We consult the Plan – an agreed design, covering the front, back and side of the house. The Boss thinks big. His first ‘landscape proposal’ was far too fancy for my humble plot, a mini version of Versailles, with fountain, pond,pergola. ‘Keep it simple, please, Arthur!’ Nice clean lines. Within budget.
But as the days become a week, then another, the Plan seems to grow all by itself, like the grass.The new seating area at the bottom of the garden deserves a path to the new patio at the top. The new patio is at a lower level than the old one, so a new step or two would make sense…
Arthur is happy – You’ve got room for a rockery! – and talks of Progress Payments, but I’m in a State. Phone a new friend, for sympathy. ‘I’m having work done.’ She’s all attention. ‘You mean, a face-lift?’ When I explain, a bit crushed, she soon loses interest. For this, she’s downgraded at once, to ‘acquaintance’. My son in the south is serene. Think of it like an adventure, Mum.
The men go on turning up too early in the morning. Darren, tea with two sugars, Andy, coffee with three. The downstairs loo has always been covered with large footprints.
Some pieces of stone, I notice, are more ridged than riven, more rustic than Raj. Must be more assertive. ‘Substandard. They’ll have to go!’ Darren looks grim, but removes them. It’s still a twilight time – that strange lull between new and old, before and after, but one of these days all the the dirty work slips into rough magic – and the Plan comes to life.
Posts are set into the holes in the yard, ready for the brand new side-gate. The trench is now paved over, so the bins can be wheeled out in style. Fresh turf at the back keeps the scene green and pleasant.The curve carved in the grass is now the connecting path – a line of beauty. Planting my feet on firmer ground. The random paving gleams in the evening – a pale sea of stone.
Andy has one more surprise. He’s played with a few bricks and created a splashback and surround for the main outflow. His own design. This, I’m paying for? But make an effort. ‘It’s amazing! A feature drain!’ He smiles.
The new Garden Order is not quite complete. There’s an empty space behind the widened border, waiting for one of the most hopeful things a human being can buy. Something living, natural treasure. A tree.