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A short story by A. A. Milne

The Landscape Gardener

Title:     The Landscape Gardener
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

Really I know nothing about flowers. By a bit of luck, James, my gardener, whom I pay half a crown a week for combing the beds, knows nothing about them either; so my ignorance remains undiscovered. But in other people's gardens I have to make something of an effort to keep up appearances. Without flattering myself I may say that I have acquired a certain manner; I give the impression of the garden lover, or the man with shares in a seed company, or--or something.

For instance, at Creek Cottage, Mrs. Atherley will say to me, "That's an _Amphilobertus Gemini_," pointing to something which I hadn't noticed behind a rake.

"I am not a bit surprised," I say calmly.

"And a _Gladiophinium Banksii_ next to it."

"I suspected it," I confess in a hoarse whisper.

Towards flowers whose names I know I adopt a different tone.

"Aren't you surprised to see daffodils out so early?" says Mrs. Atherley with pride.

"There are lots out in London," I mention casually. "In the shops."

"So there are grapes," says Miss Atherley.

"I was not talking about grapes," I reply stiffly.

However, at Creek Cottage just now I can afford to be natural; for it is not gardening which comes under discussion these days, but landscape-gardening, and any one can be an authority on that. The Atherleys, fired by my tales of Sandringham, Chatsworth, Arundel, and other places where I am constantly spending the week-end, are readjusting their two-acre field. In future it will not be called "the garden," but "the grounds."

I was privileged to be shown over the grounds on my last visit to Creek Cottage.

"Here," said Mrs. Atherley, "we are having a plantation. It will keep the wind off; and we shall often sit here in the early days of summer. That's a weeping ash in the middle. There's another one over there. They'll be lovely, you know."

"What's that?" I asked, pointing to a bit of black stick on the left; which, even more than the other trees, gave the impression of having been left there by the gardener while he went for his lunch.

"That's a weeping willow."

"This is rather a tearful corner of the grounds," apologized Miss Atherley. "We'll show you something brighter directly. Look there--that's the oak in which King Charles lay hid. At least, it will be when it's grown a bit."

"Let's go on to the shrubbery," said Mrs. Atherley. "We are having a new grass path from here to the shrubbery. It's going to be called Henry's Walk."

Miss Atherley has a small brother called Henry. Also there were eight Kings of England called Henry. Many a time and oft one of those nine Henrys has paced up and down this grassy walk, his head bent, his hands clasped behind his back; while behind his furrowed brow, who shall say what world-schemes were hatching? Is it the thought of Wolsey which makes him frown--or is he wondering where he left his catapult? Ah! who can tell us? Let us leave a veil of mystery over it ... for the sake of the next visitor.

"The shrubbery," said Mrs. Atherley proudly, waving her hand at a couple of laurel bushes and a--I've forgotten its name now, but it is one of the few shrubs I really know.

"And if you're a gentleman," said Miss Atherley, "and want to get asked here again, you'll always _call_ it the shrubbery."

"Really, I don't see what else you could call it," I said, wishing to be asked down again.

"The patch."

"True," I said. "I mean, Nonsense."

I was rather late for breakfast next morning; a pity on such a lovely spring day.

"I'm so sorry," I began, "but I was looking at the shrubbery from my window and I quite forgot the time."

"Good," said Miss Atherley.

"I must thank you for putting me in such a perfect room for it," I went on, warming to my subject. "One can actually see the shrubs--er--shrubbing. The plantation, too, seems a little thicker to me than yesterday."

"I expect it is."

"In fact, the tennis lawn----" I looked round anxiously. I had a sudden fear that it might be the new deer-park. "It still is the tennis lawn?" I asked.

"Yes. Why, what about it?"

"I was only going to say the tennis lawn had quite a lot of shadows on it. Oh, there's no doubt that the plantation is really asserting itself."

Eleven o'clock found me strolling in the grounds with Miss Atherley.

"You know," I said, as we paced Henry's Walk together, "the one thing the plantation wants is for a bird to nest in it. That is the hall-mark of a plantation."

"It's mother's birthday to-morrow. Wouldn't it be a lovely surprise for her?"

"It would, indeed. Unfortunately this is a matter in which you require the co-operation of a feathered friend."

"Couldn't you try to persuade a bird to build a nest in the weeping ash? Just for this once?"

"You're asking me a very difficult thing," I said doubtfully. "Anything else I would do cheerfully for you; but to dictate to a bird on such a very domestic affair---- No, I'm afraid I must refuse."

"It need only just _begin_ to build one," pleaded Miss Atherley, "because mother's going up to town by your train to-morrow. As soon as she's out of the house the bird can go back anywhere else it likes better."

"I will put that to any bird I see to-day," I said, "but I am doubtful."

"Oh, well," sighed Miss Atherley, "never mind."

. . . . .

"What do you think?" cried Mrs. Atherley as she came in to breakfast next day. "There's a bird been nesting in the plantation!"

Miss Atherley looked at me in undisguised admiration. I looked quite surprised--I know I did.

"Well, well!" I said.

"You must come out afterwards and see the nest and tell me what bird it is. There are three eggs in it. I am afraid I don't know much about these things."

"I'm glad," I said thankfully. "I mean, I shall be glad to."

We went out eagerly after breakfast. On about the only tree in the plantation with a fork to it a nest balanced precariously. It had in it three pale-blue eggs splotched with light brown. It appeared to be a blackbird's nest with another egg or two to come.

"It's been very quick about it," said Miss Atherley.

"Of our feathered bipeds," I said, frowning at her, "the blackbird is notoriously the most hasty."

"Isn't it lovely?" said Mrs. Atherley.

She was still talking about it as she climbed into the trap which was to take us to the station.

"One moment," I said, "I've forgotten something." I dashed into the house and out by a side door, and then sprinted for the plantation. I took the nest from the weeping and over-weighted ash and put it carefully back in the hedge by the tennis-lawn. Then I returned more leisurely to the house.

If you ever want a job of landscape-gardening thoroughly well done, you can always rely upon me.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: Landscape Gardener