Chris Padilla/Blog / Books

Pratchett on English Gardens


I revisited a passage from Sir Terry Pratchett's "A Slip of the Keyboard." The essay "Magic Kingdoms" illustrates the English dedication to maintaining a garden in any environment. Pratchett uses this as an exemplification for how the garden is a portal to another world, and a widespread fascination with planting a garden is why fantasy is part of the fabric of the culture.

I remember a back garden I used to see from the train. It was a very small garden for a very small house, and it was sandwiched between the thundering railway line, a billboard, and a near-derelict factory.

I don't know what a Frenchman or an Italian would have made of it. A terrace, probably, with a few potted plants and some trellis to conceal the worst of postindustrial squalor. But this was an Englishman's garden, so he'd set out to grow, if not Jerusalem, then at least Jerusalem artichokes. There was a rockery, made of carefully placed concrete lumps (the concrete lump rockery is a great British contribution to horticulture, and I hope one is preserved in some outdoor museum somewhere) There was a pond; the fish probably had to get out to turn around. There were roses. There was a tiny greenhouse made of old window frames nailed together (another great British invention). Never was an area so thoroughly gardened, in fact, as that patch of cat infested soil.

No attempt had been made to screen off the dark satanic mills, unless the runner beans counted. To the gardener, in the garden, they did not exist. They were in another world.

For me there's another comfort in the scene. Even if we're not nurturing plants, we all have the means to cultivate our own creative gardens. A sketchbook, journal, blog, a song. And it doesn't matter how humble! A jar of soil and basil goes a long way for bringing life to a space. So it is with strumming strings and moving the pencil.