Obdurate plants lasted best; Michaelmas daisy, marguerites,
roses which liked the boulder clay, and in May, still in full leaf and
ready to provide yet another cutting of green leaves, the Curly Kale.
In summer most of the gardens were a fine sight in a workmanlike, allotment
sort of way. Very few were designed as pleasure gardens and none looked
like the modern patios, full of expensive plants from garden centres.
Most were far more untidy, with children's soap-box carts under construction
and plant which had survived rather than been imported full of flower.
There were exceptions. Mr Dalgleish was a real gardener. He had a wife,
but apparently no other family. How he and his wife had obtained the
house was never explained. All other families had several children. some
young and some already grown up, but here was a solitary couple and the
wife ill. Perhaps there had been a family and some tragedy had overcome
them. Perhaps the wife's illness had caused them to scatter instead of
drawing the family together. Adults in the road may have known but it
was never discussed in front of the children and such questions were
"We live in everyone else's pockets here. There is no need to notice
what's in them."
Not having a family must have been a sadness, for Mr Dalgleish loved
children. A very handy man, with a neat way with tools and a love of
'finish', He made us our first mouse cage. It was a splendid wooden box
made of clean Quebec Pine, etched all over with a pattern of minute gum
sacs and without a knot in it. He must have made it from an old drawing
board, for there could have been no other source for that particular
wood. Perhaps he worked in some drawing office and had access to such
exotic material. Really, we children knew nothing about Mr Dalgleish.
The cage had a glass front sliding in neat grooves. Inside was a flat
floor with a slope leading to a sleeping balcony above, where the bedrooms
had round entrance holes, cut with an exciting centre-bit drill. A pitched
roof hinged up for cleaning purposes and across the front Mr Dalgleish
lettered 'Mouse Villas' in beautiful copperplate writing. This
first experience of seeing a man shape wood, and such a clean, yielding
wood as good pine, opened up wide vistas of creation. Anything could
be made. Everything was possible. He had provided two white mice which
quickly produced naked young.
|However, it was mainly in the garden that he showed his quality.
The front garden had slightly raised beds with never a weed to be
seen and the edges trowelled smooth at a slope, as if they were worked
cement. He used a plasterer's float, working the black earth in flat
slopes on either side of the path, from the gate to the front door.
Then, with his beds laid out, he planted his flowers in studied array,
as if in a Victorian park. Ice plants along the sloped edges, with
their silver grey leaves and pink flowers nodding, individual spot
plants set at measured distances, varigated foliage plants and a
never ending succession of annuals in season. No flower was allowed
to fade and everyone of them stood up straight. In another world,
Mr Dalgleish would have been a happy gardener in a noble house, smartly
turned out in polished leather leggings and trying not to smile when
praised, standing to attention by his beds as the owner made his