‘A Dastardly Design’ by Sarah Bacaller

We’d zig-zagged our way across the Peninsula today – from Main Ridge to Balnarring, Mount Martha to Mornington. Time for our last job of the day. Only Wendy and I remained. Ordinarily there were four of us, but Gina was sick and Charlotte had left early. The sun was gradually sinking towards its seaward horizon.

Wendy was a veteran. She’d welcomed from my first day, gently sharing her experience and skills. I was about her daughter’s age, and we swapped family notes as well as permacultural ambitions. But despite the beautiful sunshine and the bay views, neither of us were delighted with this final job. Row upon row of formal square bushes stood before us, coerced into uniformity that dissolved any difference. There were more than a hundred of them – I’d counted. And we had to keep them in line – prim and proper.

That wasn’t the worst of it though. The owner of this garden, old Trevor, was an Anti-Leafer. No, not a member of Antifa. An Anti-Leafer … He didn’t want leaves in his yard. None at all. Not one. Wait! you interject. Didn’t you just say he had over hundred bushes? What do you mean he didn’t want leaves in his yard? Here was the thing – the leaves of each plant were perfectly acceptable on the plants. But they were not to leave that rightful place. And, when the results of our careful hedge-trimming (to preserve the formal squares) fell as vagrants to the earth, each piece was to be picked up and taken away. To leaf hell. Or somewhere similar. Neither did Trevor want any fallen leaves from his larger grove of trees to remain beneath them. Not one.

“This isn’t my favourite garden,” I confessed, as we opened the front gate.

“I know,” sympathised Wendy, “but we’re nearly done for the day. You rake along the fence and I’ll start hedge-trimming”.

Off I went. On the plus side, it was quiet and peaceful under the canopy. I scrape-scraped with the rake, poking and prodding at rogue leaves. They seemed to cling desperately to the earth as I attempted to drag toward them my pile, which also happened to include mouldering dog poop. There was nothing wrong with raking leaves from a path. But under here, where no one would ever see the few leaves that fell? My raking would make no difference to anyone or anything in the world.

Scrape and drag. Scrape and drag. My musings became bland. I got onto my hands and knees to gather leaves by hand. After forty minutes, I was undeniably bored. I also needed a stretch. I wove my way to Wendy, who paused the trimmer.

“Going alright?” she enquired.

I nodded. “Not bad … but … ” I looked around. “Wendy, look at this garden! Old Trev carts in litres of expensive mulch, and yet we take away the mulch that nature gives for free!”

Wendy nodded. “I know. But it keeps him happy, and that’s important too.”

“Well,” I said decidedly, “you know what I think?” I paused for effect. “This garden is a cry for help!”

Wendy looked up, her eyes thoughtful. “Go on,” she said.

“Look at it!” I gestured around me. “Uniform. Stale. Restricted. Malnourished!”

“A cry for help, you say?” Wendy mused. “If only we could take old Trev to one of the permaculture classes at the community house! He’d gain a whole new appreciation for leaves … ”

“Wendy,” I said, “we’ve got two massive bags of leaves in the van from the Balnarring job this morning.”

An impish gleam leapt into Wendy’s eyes.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Wendy?” I asked.

“I think so!” she whispered zestily. “Re-wilding! Trev’s garden won’t know what’s hit it!”

A new energy rose in us. I dragged the leaf bag from the van to the garden bed along the fence and tipped with gusto … WHOOOSH came the leaves, joyously scattering in the breeze.

“Leaves!” I cried, “Leaves!” as I threw them up in the air and danced beneath them.

Meanwhile, the grin on Wendy’s face as she whizzed the edges off those nandina squares was incomparable. Soon, those pinky-green plants were looking like real, live bushes again. Then it was the bay trees’ turn. By the time Wendy had run the hedge-trimmer over them in a roughly conical shape, they were looking positively like small trees. I couldn’t help myself. I ran and hugged one.

“I’m so glad you’re back!” I said to the liberated tree.

“The lemons next,” said Wendy. “Less like Lego, more like trees!” Off we went, pulling out our secateurs like the women on a mission. We knelt before those glorious but restricted specimens and snipped and snapped, opening them out so that air could flow through their branches; so that they could feel the breeze rippling through their leaves and jangling their fruits again.

We stood back and admired our handywork.

“This garden has new life!” I exclaimed.

“A job well done, indeed!” affirmed Wendy. “You know,” she continued, “You can’t even see the sea from behind this huge fence. What’s the point of paying millions for a seaside mansion and then blocking out the view?”

“Wendy!” I said, shocked. “What are you suggesting? We can’t bludgeon down Trevor’s fence! That’s just going too far!”

“Yes, yes, of course,” agreed Wendy. “I got a little excited. Well, it’s certainly much improved! Time to go, hey? Mission accomplished.”

“Hang on … I’ve left the rake under the trees,” I said. “I’ll go get it.”

* * *

Rake, scrape; rake, scrape …

“Sarah?” Wendy called, turning off the trimmers and breaking into my reverie. “Time’s up! We’re done!”

I looked up. The perfectly trimmed bushes were … beautifully square. All of them. Hardly a leaf was to be seen under the trees along the fence where I’d been raking, non-stop for the last ninety minutes. We’d done our job.

Ah well, I thought. One can only dream.


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