The rockery: A doll’s house garden

Other People’s Places: Gatsby’s Long Island, a framed pencil drawing of Roseberry Topping in North Yorkshire on the spare room wall, the cafe at the Bexhill-on-Sea De La Warr Pavilion.

On a drizzly, grey summer Sunday two weeks ago I surveyed the mound of heather in the garden, an impressive tide of pink hues each Spring. I got out the shears and scrambling onto the spongy branches, I scrabbled, hacked, pulled, cut, yanked scratchy hanks of dead and old wood, roots, and twigs, carpets of perfect twigs. Three garden bags full later I was done.

I have wanted to go to Scotland for some time. I am starting to long for it. I want to revisit the Highlands of our 70’s family trips, where we first began to gather the pink, granite and green-washed lumps of rockery which I have excavated. I collected anorak badges from Seahouses, Keswick, Alnwick. The stones from the Scottish streams have re-emerged from the heather, sprinkled with dried micro blossoms, mossy meaning in their shape and spacing.A rockery is a miniature mountain garden. As a child I squatted to look at them in detail, squinting, scaling then up, memorising their contours, meticulously tracing patterns.

Between the rocks are empty spaces, punctuated by faded garden centre labels, particularly placed by my father, vestiges of the old planting scheme. March Seedling. Darley Dale. Foxhole. Furzey. Houseleek. Small markers for an archaeological recipe.

I left two plants standing, tall and umbrellaing, the Scots version of Japanese bonsai. Clambering on the familiar footholds I scraped and raked the concreted surface, and forked in compost, uncertain of my choices, of the acidity of the earth or the nutrition. Beside each new sprig of heather, or slivers of Alpine silver-leaf, I pressed in labels: Spring Flowering, Shining Light, Pink Star, names less vernacular nowadays. I’m leaving spaces for what used to be, perpetuating my family heritage, our taste, like horseradish and loganberries.

This is a memorial to the original rockery. It is not the same. Next year I will stand in a stream in Glen Nevis, a cheese and tomato sandwich in my hand and a hunk of fruitcake in my pocket, one false step away from a Wellington bootful of icy water, surrounded by the mountains, these stones of ours.


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