When we first moved into our present house in 1999, it had an eight foot high privet hedge running all along one side, between us and the park. I quite liked it, as it gave us a degree of privacy from people using the park facilities, and also acted as a shelter and windbreak.
I remember, when I was a little girl, privet hedges were not quite so popular, and, of course, we had stick insects … my sister went on regular forays to “borrow” from the neighbours’ hedges to supply sustenance for our pets. My father had planted Lleylandii, a quick – growing type of conifer tree that very soon became the bane of his life as he tried to trim and shape them. They remained resolutely wild and … hairy, smelling of cat pee and harbouring small brown spiders with white markings on their backs, like hot cross buns …
What is it with men and hedges? Eight years after moving in, my partner decided it would be a good idea to rip all the hedge out and replace it with climbing roses, fuchsias and the like … I tried my best to persuade him not to do it, pointing out it would take years for the cover to be replaced. Faced with the answer:
“WELL, I’M NOT GETTING ANY YOUNGER AND I CAN’T KEEP ON TOP OF IT!”
The hedge’s days were numbered and, much to my regret, it went. I insisted we kept half.
My back garden… I wish!
Apparently though, this is one of the things that has led to flooding where I live. People are ripping up their hedges and their front gardens to make way for paved patios and parking. The natural soakaways are gone and some areas are now prone to flash flooding when it rains, causing damage and misery.
These front gardens were such a bonus when these houses were built. A little patch of earth to plant some bulbs and nurture a lawn, a treasured symbol of going up in the world … hope, that after the slum clearances finished around the 1930’s, that things were looking up … promise, a young couple’s first home, away from the necessity of “Living with Mother”…
We are a nation of gardeners, after all. (My secret celebrity crush is Monty Don …) Perhaps this love of gardening bloomed with the prospect of owning our own little piece of land. Although I love the grandeur and glory of the gardens attached to stately homes, I also enjoy humbler, more accessible gardens.
At this point, I feel I must confess … I’m not the world’s best gardener. Possibly too impatient, as I like to dig things up to check on their progress, to compare them with pictures on the Internet and berate them for not behaving as they should … Despite this, we have a reasonable garden, filled with a variety of plants designed to encourage bees and butterflies.
Not really herons, though. My partner has a pond, stocked with goldfish and shubunkins, home to frogs, newts and a pair of toads. Some of the fish are older than our sons, who are 17 and 22. Indeed, some of his fish knew him before I did. Justly so, then, he is proud and fond of his fish, and we have been lucky enough to have had several lots – litters? – of baby fish.
One morning, it, was an early spring morning, so still quite fresh, I went outside for the first cigarette of the day. I lit up, inhaled with relish and looked around the garden…
“Have to cut the grass soon… that clematis could do with tying up… not sure what that heron wants, but it can’t stay there… WHAT!!”
Sitting on the hedge was an enormous grey bird. It was huge and splendid. I froze, somewhat afraid, actually, because it was the biggest bird I had ever seen in real life. It was sitting, quite unconcernedly, looking in the pond – oh dear – from the top of the hedge, and it turned to regard me with great, round, golden eyes.
I was at once struck by the elegant, yet powerful neck, the sweeping black eyebrow feathers and long, sharp beak. The compact, feathered body, neatly clad in business suit grey and long, scaly, greenish legs. It was Jurassic.
“Um, I’m afraid you’ll have to go elsewhere… you can’t have these…”
I stammered nervously.
What was I thinking? With a beak that size, it could come in the house and I’d make it a cup of tea if it wanted … It looked somewhat contemptuous at my words and shook its wings out, with a sound like flapping sheets, then slowly rose into the sky.
I was transfixed. As it flew steadily and majestically away, I was reminded of nothing more than its prehistoric relatives, the Pteradactyls of years past, its snake – like neck folded in, legs tucked underneath and massive wings beating.
My partner was horrified. And at once purchased a net to cover the pond, although I drew the line at a plastic deterrent heron. Now our hedge is gone, the pond is not such an enticing sheltered fishing spot. I still see the heron, though, as there is a large country park to the West of us, where I presume it has better fishing grounds.
Its silhouette is unmistakeable in the sky, a remnant of our pre – history, sailing monstrously against a skyline of houses and taller buildings… out of place, somehow, as if its backdrop should be huge trees, ancient forests and old times…
All photographs Copyright © 2016 Alex Marlowe