Friday, June 13, 2008


Alice surveyed the sea of mud around her that would tomorrow become her first show garden, whether it was ready or not. The site was a challenging one, facing north and near the main road, but her design had cleverly turned this to advantage. She thought of the neatly drawn circles on heavy quality cartridge paper and clenched her teeth to stop the tears. The early frown-lines deepened in her forehead and she swallowed hard. She bundled her latest revised timeplan for the final day's work into her portfolio and decided to run on gut instinct in the few hours that remained. First she had to have tea though.

She went into the back of the van and lit the stove. It was a risky business because the table was piled high with a precarious stack of plant labels, unopened envelopes, sweet-wrappers, and parking tickets. Alice turned her back but still felt them looming at her as she rinsed out the least dirty mug she could find. And then she realised it would have to be instant milk. She dug out another Tesco's Finest Belgian chocolate bar from a bag on the floor. There were two more but she was going to be sick of the stuff with nothing else to eat for the rest of the night.

She put the chocolate into the deepest pocket of her Barbour and climbed down from the van, wincing as she realised that yet again, she'd worn her mud-caked boots inside it. Tucked into her boots Alice wore a pair of vintage-style jodhurs with voluminous legs; in daylight hours she crammed an old felt Homburg hat on her head, all year round. She was an American's ideal English eccentric.

All along the front of the garden plot her plants waited in neat rows, tallest at the back, all painfully short of water. She couldn't water them now though because the supply had been turned off at 11pm. Alice put her tea down and tried but failed not to think how much she'd spent on those plants, not to mention the seeds ordered from Kew, the huge deliveries of specialist compost, all unused because she hadn't got round to sowing them herself in time.

She shivered in the cooling night-time air, and then stirred herself to start work again. She picked up two armfuls of pots and walked carefully across the uneven duck-boards that ran along the main bed of the plot. The earth lay in spade-sized clods, shining in the floodlights. Rough brushwood fencing from the adjoining plot formed the rear, and the sides were still open.

Alice felt so sick with nerves, she could hardly taste her tea as more than just scorching hot. From the road came the sound of the commercial bins being emptied, and a rancid smell drifted down on the wind. It was going to be a long night, and by now even Alice had to accept that it wouldn't be long enough.

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