When Tom and Lizzie moved into their house in Harpcottle there was an oak tree at the very end of the long, thin garden. It was still a very small oak tree, not quite as tall as Tom’s harp. Tom looked at it but he did not touch it.
Musicians are generally not good gardeners. They have to keep their hands clean and cared for in order to play their instruments, especially something like the harp. That meant that Tom did not do any gardening. Lizzie did.
As soon as they had unpacked and settled in Lizzie grew beans and cabbages, spinach and tomatoes. She grew gooseberries, rhubarb and strawberries. She talked to all of them as she weeded and watered. She talked to the oak tree as well. It was a very special sort of oak tree, a Harpcottle oak. They did not grow anywhere else in the country. It was considered to be a great honour to own a Harpcottle oak and owners were required to take great care of them.
Lizzie was very careful of their Harpcottle oak but it did not thrive. Despite all the talking the oak tree never seemed to get any bigger, indeed it seemed to be getting smaller. Lizzie worried about this. She read books and looked for information on the internet. She did everything that was suggested even when one thing contradicted the other. She gave it fertiliser from Harpcottle hens and then dug it all out again when she discovered that fertiliser should only come from Harpcottle sheep mixed with Harpcottle hay. Then she discovered that the hay should only come from north facing fields and the hay she had given the oak tree had come from a west facing field. She was not sure how you told the difference but the book said it was important. That meant digging out the fertiliser once more and replacing it yet again. The oak tree grew smaller.
She went to the park at midnight and picked up conkers under a full moon, the most perfect she could find, ready to place them in a perfect circle around the tree. When she looked next morning she discovered that the conkers were full of oakworms and no good at all, indeed she had to stop the oakworms eating the last of the leaves on the tree which was now no higher than her knees. This was most annoying because there were plenty of perfect conkers under the oak trees in the park. She saw them there when she went for another walk late in the morning. It was late because she had slept late and that was because she had been to bed very late after collecting the conkers.
The oak tree seemed to shrink even more after that. Lizzie went back to the books and to the internet. It was no good pruning all the lyruncinapinnate leaves. She had no idea what they were and she was not at all sure that the writer of “A treatise on irregular leaf form diseases found in north leaning trees in Harpcottle” knew what they were either.
There was the Widdershins Winding Clock Cure in which you had to string two thousand and one conkers on a left hand string and wrap it anti-clockwise around the thirteenth branch while counting thirteen times. The problem with that was the tree did not have thirteen branches and, anyway, what were you supposed to count? Lizzie did not know.
Perhaps she could try gathering oak leaves from four hundred and forty two oak trees and putting them under the tree. Lyra T E Oakes insisted that it had worked for her in her manual, “The Harpcottle oak tree: growth, management and care of the tree in domestic settings.” Lizzie was not convinced but, just in case, she spent a week finding four hundred and forty-two trees and the most perfect leaves she could find.
She put them under the tree in the approved pattern but it was windy and the leaves would not stay. Mouse, the cat, thought they were something to play with and chased them around the garden.
By then the tree had shrunk to no higher than Lizzie’s ankles. The thought of losing a Harpcottle oak (and the inquiry which was sure to follow) was more than she could bear.
Even Mouse was beginning to look worried. She spent hours every day by the tree making strange little noises that Lizzie did not understand at all.
The day the Harpcottle oak shrank to not much more than the very tip of Mouse’s tail
Lizzie told Tom what had happened. He went pale. Lose a Harpcottle oak? He might lose his place in the Harpcottle orchestra, just as they were going to play the Harpcottle Harp Symphony!
“What it needs is Leaf Music,” he told Lizzie in alarm, “You should have given it Leaf Music. Everyone knows that Harpcottle oaks need Leaf Music. They cannot survive without them. All Harpcottle musicians have a Harpcottle Oak because they know about Leaf Music. All the Leaf Music is there!”
Tom flapped a piece of music manuscript paper at their records and CDs and music manuscripts.
“Now we will have to start at the very beginning.”
He rushed to get his harp and tune it. Lizzie rushed his harp seat outside. Mouse sat guard by the last cat hair size remnant of the Harpcottle oak making small purring noises to encourage it to stay there.
Then Tom began to play. He played the Leaf Music Morning Lullaby and the Harpcottle oak became a little bigger than the tip of Mouse’s tail. He played the Leaf Music Nursery Rhymes and the Harpcottle Oak became the size of Mouse crouching. He played the Leaf Music scales and the Harpcottle Oak became the size of Mouse reaching up to pat Lizzie’s knees. He played the Leaf Music Lilt which all young people in Harpcottle sang and danced at their weddings.
Tom went on and on. While he played the thirteen Leaf Music solos Lizzie rang Harriet Harpcottle the conductor of the Harpcottle Orchestra, to tell her why the Tom was not at orchestra practice.
Harriet Harpcottle promptly brought the entire orchestra around and they played the thirteen Harpcottle Oakleaf Sonatas and the thirteen Harpcottle Acorn Concertos. They went on playing and playing until they had played the Harpcottle Oak symphonies with Harpcottle Harmony Choir joining in the last movement of the last symphony, which is of course the thirteenth.
By then the Harpcottle Oak was so big that it shaded the entire garden. Lizzie wondered if this was not just a little too big so she went and made Harpcottle Oak Leaf scones and cups of tea for everyone.
While they eating and drinking she went and talked to the tree. She suggested it might be a little uncomfortable if it remained that big. Would, she suggested, the tree like a companion? If it shrank to a reasonable Harpcottle oak tree sort of size she would see what she could do about finding another Harpcottle oak. She would also find recordings of all the Harpcottle Oak music and play it for both of them.
“How big?” the tree rustled at her.
Lizzie thought about it and then said, “Big enough for a cat and a girl to lie under and listen to a boy play Leaf Music on his harp.”