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An essay by A. A. Milne

A Man Of Property

Title:     A Man Of Property
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

Yes, a gardener's life is a disappointing one. When it was announced that we were just too late for everything this year, I decided to buy some ready-made gardens and keep them about the house, until such time as Nature was ready to co-operate. So now I have three gardens. This enables me to wear that superior look (which is so annoying for you) when you talk about your one little garden in front of me. Then you get off in disgust and shoot yourself, and they bury you in what you proudly called your herbaceous border, and people wonder next year why the delphiniums are so luxuriant--but you are not there to tell them.

Yes, I have three gardens. You come upon the first one as you are shown up the staircase to the drawing-room. It is outside the staircase window. This is the daffodil garden--3 ft. 8 ins. by 9 ins. The vulgar speak of it as a window-box; that is how one knows that they are vulgar. The maid has her instructions; we are not at home when next they call.

Sometimes I sit on the stairs and count the daffodils in my garden. There are seventy-eight of them; seventy-eight or seventy-nine--I cannot say for certain, because they will keep nodding their heads, so that sometimes one may escape me, or perhaps I may count another one twice over. The wall round the daffodil garden is bright blue--I painted it myself, and still carry patterns of it about with me--and the result of all these yellow heads on their long green necks waving above the blue walls of my garden is that we are always making excuses to each other for going up and down stairs, and the bell in the drawing-room is never rung.

But I have a fault to find with my daffodils. They turn their backs on us. It is natural, I suppose, that they do not care to look in at the window to see what we are doing, preferring the blue sky and the sun, and all that they can catch of March and April, but the end of it is that we see too little of their faces; for even if they are trained in youth with a disposition towards the window, yet as soon as they begin to come to their full glory they swing round towards the south and hide their beauty from us. But the House Opposite sees them, and brings his visitors, you may be sure, to his window to look at them. Indeed, I should not be surprised if he boasted of it as "his garden" and were even now writing in a book about it.

My second garden is circular--18 ins. in diameter, and, of course, more than that all the way round. I can see it now as I write--or, more accurately, if I stop writing for a moment--for it is just outside the library window. The vulgar call it a tub--they would; actually it is the Tulip Garden. At least, the man says so. For the tulips have not bourgeoned yet. No, I am wrong. (That is the worst of using these difficult words.) They have bourgeoned, but they have not blossomed. Their heads are well above ground, they have swelled into buds, but the buds have not broken. So, for all I know, they may yet be sun-flowers. However, the man says they will be tulips; he was paid for tulips; and he assures me that he has had experience in these matters. For myself, I should never dare to speak with so much authority. It is not our birth but our upbringing which makes us what we are, and these tulips have had, during their short lives above ground, a fatherly care and a watchfulness neither greater nor less than were bestowed upon the daffodils. That they sprang from different bulbs seems to me a small matter in comparison with this. However, the man says that they will be tulips. Presumably yellow ones.

One's gardens get smaller and smaller. My third is only 11 ins. by 9 ins. The vulgar call it a Japanese garden--indeed, I don't see what else they could call it. East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet, but this does not prevent my Japanese garden from sitting on an old English refectory table in the dining-room. A Japanese garden needs very careful management. I have three native gardeners working at it day and night. At least they maintain the attitudes of men hard at work, but they don't seem to do much; perhaps they are afraid of throwing one another out of employment. The head gardener spends his time pointing to the largest cactus, and saying (I suppose in Japanese), "Look at my cactus!" The other two appear to be washing his Sunday shirt for him, instead of pruning or potting out, which is what I pay them for. However, the whole scene is one of great activity, for in the ornamental water in the middle of the garden two fishermen are hard at it, hoping to land something for my breakfast. So far they have not had a bite.

My Japanese garden has this advantage over the others, that it is independent of the seasons. The daffodils will bow their heads and droop away. The tulips--well, let us be sure that they are tulips first; but, if the man is correct, they too will wither. But the green hedgehog which friends tell me is a cactus will just go on and on. It must have some source of self-nourishment, for it can derive little from the sand whereon it rests. Perhaps, like most of us, it thrives on appreciation, and the gardener, who points to it so proudly day and night, is rightly employed after all. He knows that if once he dropped his hand, or looked the other way, the cactus would give it up disheartened.

It is fortunate for you that I am writing this week, and not later, for I have now ordered three more gardens, circular ones, to sit outside the library. There is talk also of a couple of evergreen woods for the front of the house. With six gardens, two woods, and an ornamental lake I shall be unbearable. In all the gardens of England people will be shooting themselves in disgust, and the herbaceous borders will flourish as never before. But that is for the future. To-day I write only of my three gardens. I would write of them at greater length but that my daffodil garden is sending out an irresistible call. I go to sit on the staircase.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's essay: Man Of Property