Well, we have finally got on with it.
Until very recently, the Rose Maze was a roped off rectangle of rough grass, awaiting the fulfilment of a pipe-dream long in the puffing.
But the best of gardening is like that. Long in the planning, and gradually approached – the journey and anticipation as much a joy as the arrival. To plant anything – but especially a Maze of yew trees and roses – careful ground preparation repays endlessly.
At the end of last spring, therefore, we started by moving all the snowdrops and daffodils ‘in the green’ from the grass within the rectangle. Then, once the growing season had started in earnest (May, for us), and all through last summer, Tommy, the Head Gardener, mixed his witches’ brew and diligently sprayed off the grass and perennial weeds.
We are Organic in all things save two: the acres of gravel (that only HRH could afford to have hand-weeded); and the nightmare of first-time ground-clearance. In the face of 40 years of dereliction, we can hack, strim and mow the over-burden, but to clear the ground for planting, I’m afraid dear old glyphosate is the only practical answer.
It took repeated, six-weekly applications of Tommy’s brew finally to clear the site of the Rose Maze, but come November, we judged the battle won. Like the Romans before us, we’d ‘created a desert and called it Peace’. Like them, we’ll see…. . The natives are a hardy bunch in this part of the world.
However, Tommy and I decided that the time had come to speed the plough. David brought the big tractor down from the farm (its weight, like an elephant, is better spread than a smaller machine with smaller tires) and the sod was turned. Like all Kirklinton soil, it had the richness and satisfying fecundity of smooth chocolate. Then the rotovator followed, first down and then across, and soon the plot was a fine, smooth tilth of brown loveliness.
‘Be perfect for Dahlias,’ they said. But I know, now, not to rise to the bait. If Tommy had his way, half the Walled Garden would be Dahlias – and the other half Chrysanthemums.
I had laminated the ground-plan, based on a unit of 4 foot squares. The paths are 4’ wide; the beds for the hedges are 4’ wide and each turn and twist of the labyrinth works on the same 4’ grid. This allowed us to peg the site out with short stakes and start mapping the paths and hedges with 12 foot rails. One whole rail would do the side of three squares. A third of a rail would do one side. Two thirds would do two. It should have been as simple as Lego.
But, oh, what a pickle we discovered! For a start, 12 foot rails no longer exist. Or at least, unless you ask for them specially to be cut to 12’ exactly, they have been Euro-ised to the nearest metric length. The excuse given is that is how they come out of the forest. But 3.5m is not 12 foot. And 11’ 4½“ does not fit a 4 foot grid.
Much teeth grinding. ‘I thought we’d voted Brexit,’ said Tommy. Too late, apparently. More teeth grinding.
It was a case of either cutting the timber supplied, with extra work and significant wastage, or sending the timber back and getting new lengths specially cut, which we were assured could be done, but with considerable delay and expense. David, had the answer: as the Mountain wasn’t moving, Mohamed (pbuh) would shrink the grid. A 1m grid (or 3’6” as I’d prefer to call it) would work just as well.
Next we discovered what the architects of Cheops had found out a few millennia before: if you’re going to work on a grid pattern, you need to get your initial right-angles accurate to the minutest degree.
Tommy and David set off. They hammered, and measured, and sawed, and hammered again. Gradually, the design on the laminated sheet took shape on the brown earth. Then, a third of the way across the layout, there came a curse.
‘Summat’s wrang, here,’ said David, as two lengths of rail failed to meet.
‘And here,’ said Tommy.
They looked back across the intricate filigree of posts and rails already in place – now widening out of true. I watched as they stood, scratching their heads, plainly - if you will forgive the term - sore amazed.
‘It’s that fust corner,’ said Tommy with a heavy sigh. ‘It cannat be square.’
‘Oh, f***,’ they said together.
There are moments when the man who has ordered others to undertake a Sisyphean task is best advised to absent himself. This was one such a moment.
Well, we have finally got on with it.