The Garden

Is all that our garden?" I said. "All the way to the trellis?" "There's lots more past the trellis," said my mother. "Go and see."

I walked down a crazy-paving path with walls made out of fruit trees. At the end of the path was a wilderness of grass, as high as my head. I ploughed through the jungle to reach the trellis and peered round it at a derelict vegetable garden. Beyond that, there was a ruined greenhouse and a little wood.

I was six.

For almost ten years, I roamed round that garden. I knew all its secrets. If you climbed the big pear tree, there was a place where you could curl up and read. In spring, you could lie flat in the wood and be hidden by daffodils. By the left hand fence, in a tangle of weeds, there was a tiny Dorothy Perkins rosebush that produced minute pink flowers.

I snapped the snapdragons open and shut and slid foxglove bells on to all my fingers. I rubbed the cobweb covering from the big, pale coltsfoot leaves, and plundered the seedpods of the lupins, stripping off their furry skin. And year after year I picked the huge white bindweed flowers, searching for one that was perfect and unblemished. But they all had a little black insect in the centre.

The garden was full of things to eat. Blackberries grew in handfuls on the brambles down the right hand side. In the vegetable patch, runner beans made a leafy tent hung with scarlet flowers and long, juicy pods. And in the wood there were different kinds of apples and pears, and little, dark plums, with pale, translucent flesh.

I wandered around, looking, and nibbling - and pretending. Branches and bits of string made bows and arrows for Robin Hood and his merry men. Sticks stuck into the lawn, with more sticks balanced on top, transformed me into a show jumper - horse and rider at the same time. I galloped round whinnying and clicking my tongue to encourage myself as I jumped.

In the ruined greenhouse, I played house and planned concerts with my brother and sister. We conducted experiments there too, shaking up boiled sweets with water to make a dreadful, sickly drink. We gave it a fancy name and pretended it was delicious.

The garden was the best place in the world for pretending - until the day my father found a gardener.

Once there was someone else to do the digging and weeding, my father took the garden over and tamed it. He loved dramatic, unusual plants and the flowerbeds filled up with blue roses and speckled tiger flowers. He grew elegant azaleas too, and little, shy martagon lilies, and the giant Himalayan lily that grows nine feet tall and takes four years to bloom. Suddenly, everything in the garden had a Latin name, and the flowers were too important to pick.

The greenhouse was mended and extended too. On the new staging stood pots of frilly pelargoniums and spiky strelitzia reginae - the bird of paradise flower. Bulbs were ordered out of catalogues and we watched breathlessly to see their first shoots and their delicate, expensive blossoms.

It became my father's garden, not mine.

Now it belongs to someone else and it's probably different again. Maybe it's full of patios and water features and barbecues. It doesn't matter. I can still walk round it in my head, as it used to be. I still know it better than anywhere else in the world.

Gillian Cross created The Demon Headmaster series (Puffin). Her many other books include Down with the Dirty Danes (Collins), Pictures in the Dark (Puffin) and a new one, Calling a Dead Man (Oxford University Press)


After hearing the piece read aloud, read it to yourself a few times and discuss it with others.

Discussion points

* The voice One can feel the strong affection the author has for this garden, full of memories for her. Have you any place that is special? It may be somewhere you have known for a long time, or somewhere relatively new; or a place you visited only once that evokes strong memories.

* Structure

The story is in two parts, linked by the turning point - when her father found a gardener. The contrast makes each half more effective. Notice how it concludes with a personal observation.

* Descriptiondetail

Compare the two halves of the story - when it was her garden, and after it became her father's. Her garden is seen through younger eyes, with sensory detail: touching flowers, climbing, nibbling, jumping, pretending. His garden is for looking at. In the place you are thinking of, does sensory detail come to mind?

Writing suggestions

* Gillian Cross says, "I can still walk round it in my head." Close your eyes and "walk round" your setting. Visualise the details; stop and look more closely, tell yourself what you see, smell, taste, feel, hear, think.

* Try to capture it in writing, then visualise some more. Later, shape your "mind pictures" into a complete text.

Teaching suggestions by Lorraine Dawes, English and Literacy Co-ordinator, London Borough of Redbridge Recommended reading for teachers: First Person Reading and Writing in the Primary Years by Margaret Mallet, from NATE (tel. 0114 255 5419)

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