The annual open gardens event in Pillington Village had attracted the usual interest.  The cream teas in the village hall were popular to the point of lunacy – the scones had run out by 3.20 and back-up supplies were being sent for.  The Three Tuns was doing brisk trade, with customers spilling onto the Village green with their drinks to enjoy the unaccustomed heat of the afternoon.

The Manor gardens and the Court’s Arboretum were filled with admirers, practically elbow to elbow in places.  An aerial viewpoint would have highlighted an unusual number of sunhats in an assortment of pastel shades.  Ice-cream dripped down cones and into the recesses of baby buggies.  Fretful red-cheeked toddlers grizzled.  Triumphant early-comers bore away trays of specimen plants to their cars.  Earnest devotees made pencilled notes and furtively pocketed seed heads.

For the first time, two of the council house gardens in Sylvester Crescent had been opened to the public.  Number 9, Rose and George Green’s place, presented its visitors with a marvel of miniaturism.  The modest rear patch was stuffed with wildlife statuary.  Cheeky hedgehogs with bandannas marched across the shaven grass towards gnomes with fishing rods and metal flamingos set on either side of the tiny pool.  Coy plastic fairies peeped from behind bonsai trees, and sweet little cats, dogs, ducks and squirrels capered on rocks, pathways and shed roofs.  To best showcase this plethora of motionless activity, every plant and bush had been trimmed back to within an inch of its life, then imprisoned by 12-inch high white plastic picket fencing.

In dramatic contrast, the front garden at number 11 had been developed over years by its owner, Jim Munroe, mechanic at Pillington Garage, as a cottage garden in its truest sense.  The space was divided in two by a red brick path and was entirely filled with flowering plants, a glorious tumble of roses, delphiniums, lupins, sweetpeas, lavender and phlox providing a veritable riot of colour and sweet scents.  Visitors passed straight through the house to the back garden, where Jim was to be found working in the phenomenal heat of the afternoon.  The back garden had a very different character to the front, being shaded by a graceful silver birch on one side and an ancient ash tree on the other.  Traditional flower borders curved around two sides of the lawn, which looked in relatively good condition, despite the number of feet that had trodden it over the course of the afternoon.

Jim himself, a stocky man in his thirties known for his self-containment and – some would say – unfortunately brusque manner, caused a flutter of surprise amongst each group of new arrivals, being stripped to the waist.  His muscular upper body was pale-skinned and glistened with sweat.  A tattoo of a hooded snake coiled blackly around his right biceps muscle, which was flexing visibly as Jim went about his task with a shiny new spade.  The hole he was digging in the left-hand back corner against the fence was roughly rectangular.  Jim had cast the extracted soil into a pile on the grass beside him.

‘What are you planning to do here?’ asked a thin man wearing wire-rimmed spectacles and a Panama hat.

‘Making an asparagus bed’ Jim replied shortly.

Now a younger man with a moustache pushed through to his side.

‘Quite a job in heat like this’ he remarked.  ‘Here, pass me your spade.  I’ll do a quick few for you, give you a break!’  He grabbed the spade and started to dig.  Jim made no comment, just mopped once at his gleaming brow and surveyed the efforts of his unknown visitor implacably.

After a few minutes the moustached man threw down the spade and stepped back, panting.  ‘Good luck, mate,’ he said.  ‘You’ll need to go deep for a successful asparagus patch.’

Jim nodded at him and made to resume his task.  By this time the imagination of the male onlookers had been captured and a second volunteer stepped up to do his turn.  Accompanied by cries of encouragement from the small crowd, he managed to deepen the pit by a good foot.  To his evident pleasure, he stepped away to a spontaneous round of applause.  The pile of soil on the grass had begun to take on the character of a mediaeval barrow.


‘Go on, Mark – you can dig faster than ‘im,’ a young woman dressed in silver shorts and a purple boob-tube taunted her boyfriend, giving him a shove towards the hole.  He duly spat on the palms of both hands and set to with a will.  Before long, men were forming a queue, anxious not to lose face in front of their womenfolk by refusing the challenge.  New arrivals to the front of number 11 saw the line stretching back through the small house and out onto the brick path of the front garden, and joined the end of it, assuming that this back garden must hold something of particular interest – a supposition supported by the sporadic roars of approval and admiration to be heard across the roof-top.  In this way, Jim’s hole was very quickly dug to the required dimensions.

‘Nice to feel a part of that little project,’ one military-looking man was heard to remark as he walked back down Sylvester Crescent to the public car park.  ‘I’ll always feel I’ve contributed a little something to the Pillington Village gardens open day now.  We must come again next year, Marjory, and see how his asparagus is doing.’

Which, indeed, they did, as did several others of Jim’s willing volunteers.   All, without exception, admired the wonderful, heavy crop of asparagus that Jim had achieved.

‘What’s the secret, then?’ asked more than one visitor.

‘Good fertiliser,’ Jim answered in his habitual succinct way.

It wasn’t until new occupants moved into number 11 fifteen years later and decided to get rid of the asparagus bed, that the skeleton was discovered, a dent in its skull and a rusting monkey-wrench at its side.


All rights reserved by Stephanie Smith.