It was a beautiful morning. The lawn gleamed an improbable green in the low light of the sun. The sky looked like the paint was still wet. The leaves in the orchard quivered in the breeze.

I paused in the doorway to take it all in, my joy at the beauty before me heightened by my pride: this was the garden that I had made, and I could hardly have chosen a better day to invite my friends to visit.

As I walked out onto the grass the mower scurried away into the corner and the pruner scuttled down the pear tree to join it. Neither had much to do at this time of year, so there was no need for them to do it when the master was about.

I had postponed a decision on lunch until the very last minute. I wanted everything to be perfect, and that meant two things that were not always easy to reconcile: the produce had to be picked at the point of perfect ripeness, and everything had to be absolutely fresh. ‘Absolutely fresh’ meant picked today, and since you could never predict exactly when what would ripen, that meant that the menu would depend on exactly what had reached that perfect point on this very perfect morning.

Of course, there was a risk involved: there was no guarantee that anything at all had ripened since I had last checked it two days before. With the unseasonably warm weather it was even possible that everything edible was already overripe. But there was no such thing as a life without risk, particularly the life I had chosen for myself. There was no point worrying.

Nonetheless, as I moved along the beds and then into the orchard, I felt a tiny knot of tension somewhere within me dissolve into quiet satisfaction: the garden had not failed me. The potatoes and the saffron rice were never a worry, of course: a few days either way made no difference to them at all. But I still chose a potato plant whose leaves were all showing a zero or a one, just to make sure. I marked it for the digger. I could harvest the one showing twos and threes for my own use later, so nothing would be wasted. Only one of the rice fruit was ripe, but that was enough. I clipped it and left it lying on the lawn for the mower to pick up.

The other vegetables were just as easy: I could take my pick. In fact, it was so difficult to choose, I decided in the end to go for ratatouille.

That just left the meat. I would have rather liked to be able to present a haunch of venison, but had little hope that that would be possible. And, as I had expected, the skin on the fruit was still hard and green: at least another two weeks to wait. The poultry looked rather more promising, but although there were two chickens that were ready to eat, the others had yet to hatch. I moved on, the eyes of the birds following me dispassionately from where they hung on the end of the branches. Their legs were still firmly rooted in the wood, so there was no danger of them falling and getting bruised.

As I passed by the lily pond I stamped my foot on the verge stone, just in case. Six plump trout jumped onto the lily pads. So we could have fish if there was nothing else ready yet. I heard them splash back into the water as I moved on to the beef tree. I have to confess that my mouth started watering at the sight that awaited me: seven juicy steaks just peeking out of the end of their husks. They must have opened up within the last two hours. Through the transparent inner lining I saw the beautiful marbled dark red of perfectly matured sirloin. I cut them down and laid them carefully on the grass.

On the way back to the house I checked up on the herbs and spices: all healthy and abundant. I called up my mother’s ratatouille on the stove and chose a delicate green pepper sauce for the steak. The potatoes and rice could be left on automatic. I glanced at the clock: I had spent so much time making lunch I had to wash and change in a hurry.

“I knew you lived out in the middle of nowhere, but I hadn’t realised just how far away you are: it took us fifteen minutes to get here from the town centre!”

“Well, I hope it was worth the trip.”

“Oh yes, it would be worth it just to see your beautiful garden.”

“And something here is smelling really good, too. What have you had delivered?”

“Not delivered. Cooked. They don’t deliver this far out.”

“You mean you have to cook your own food? But doesn’t that take an awful lot of time and work?”

Oh, it’s not that much of an effort. Today is a special occasion, so I spent maybe twenty minutes...”

“Twenty minutes!”

“... but most days it’s quicker. And it doesn’t really feel like work. In any case, it’s worth it to be so close to nature!”

Should I mention SciFiQuest 2106?