The Black Isle chainsaw massacre

Our choice of honeymoon destination has produced some unexpected ramifications, the most dramatic of which has reduced The Rural Retreat's lone apple tree to a gnarled, limbless trunk. Bob is to blame.

Bob, you may recall, is the proud owner of two Land Rovers, one of them the very same model that Matchgirl and I will drive through Namibia in little over a month's time. This was the one he brought around to enable me to find out if I could operate it while my long legs were crammed into the short space beneath the steering wheel. The answer, thankfully, was yes.

His visit coincided with the arrival of horticultural guru Patrick Vickery (a fellow Ross-shire Journal columnist) who'd offered to cast a professional eye over the rolling acres that bound the Retreat and give advice on how to make the land a real wildlife garden rather than a wilderness. Much of the advice centred on power tools and their use in cutting back overgrown trees and bushes.

Bob, who'd listened with great interest and approval, was soon fired up and itching to flatten the landscape – a task he began by driving his Land Rover through last year's dead growth as a prelude to his departure, leaving Matchgirl and me to clear the debris and begin construction of a bonfire.

Several days later Bob returned to The Rural Retreat with his wife, Carol, a chainsaw, branch-lopping implements and a crazed look in his eyes. A couple of hours after that our straggly and lop-sided lilac bush had been pruned into a single upstanding growth, other bushes cut back to ground level, and the vine that suffocated an innocent silver birch hacked to death and disentangled from its unwilling host's branches.

The ancient apple tree, that has produced fruit only once in the last few years, was dismembered by the chainsaw-wielding maniac who, as his reward, carried off the bigger limbs to his home where he plans to use the wood for carpentry purposes. The rest were added to a bonfire mound that has trebled in size. Much chopping is still required in other parts of the garden; when the bonfire is lit we'll need Dingwall Fire Brigade on hand in case the conflagration gets out of control

Matchgirl, who'd been at the office while the vile deed was done, was horrified when she saw what had happened to her garden. She knows in theory that the work will benefit the trees and encourage new growth but she won't really believe that until the first green shoots of recovery appear. Also less than impressed was Bess, the resident rodent killer, whose unconcern faded when she realised that the shelter of the bushes in which she performed her private business had been lost.

The rodents are suffering too. The increased recent body count suggests there are fewer hiding places in which to elude the Retreat's small game hunter.

All this work, however, is only the beginning. Matchgirl has visions of colourful wildflowers dancing in the breeze, a lawn as flat as a billiard table, hanging baskets and potted plants around the cottage and maybe a small herb garden to keep me happy. This won't happen by flinging a few handfuls of seed around, letting nature take care of itself and cutting the grass every now and then as has been the way in the past.

Does anyone have the number of The Beechgrove Garden?

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