A garden to a child isn’t necessarily about precision mown lawns, beautiful decorative borders – unless the care of these is your chores!
Memories of gardens in my distant youth are of places to hide, play complicated stories of explorations and adventure; lawns were ideal places to have pretend or real picnics, to play with kittens, later to chat and air childish views
Those early gardens are available for me to view in the dark worn leather albums, glorious in crisp black and white and about the size of a large postage stamp. I need specs these days to look back visually at my past.
I was a fair-weather garden enthusiast even then. We children were expected to enjoy making snowmen on the lawn and I guess I did reluctantly, but while I only have photos to remind me of those snowy figures we created I have a headful of memories; of icy fingers, as wet seeped through knitted gloves, of snowballs melting down my back, knees chapping in sub zero temperature and agonising chilblains. No I wasn’t fond of snowy gardens. Nor rainy gardens for that matter, wellington boots have never suited me and I can now see that a ‘clumsy’ child, as someone with dyspraxia was known as back then, was never going to find ‘wellies’ easy to cope with. Falling into puddles, into mud, are my abiding memories of ‘nice’ walks in the rain!
But come the fine weather I spent many happy hours out there with the kittens on the lawn. I explored many invented lands through the bushes, climbed any fruit tree that would allow me to read a book, shaded by the canopy. I could climb trees, unfortunately, like the cats I so admired, I had difficulty climbing down again. Mum and Dad both having to rescue me on various occasions!
I did have chores, didn’t we all? Collecting eggs, feeding the chickens. Now they terrified me, each bird knew, I swear they did, that I was the chicken wimp of all times, and would chase me aggressively – it’s true, stop grinning! (Well, maybe the chicken feed I carried contributed to the excited rush of feathers:) I disliked this chore but, as I wanted to eat eggs, Mum explained, I had to contribute. From childhood to now eggs have been a favourite, no matter how cooked. Even when, before *lion stamp days, as a child I opened up a hard boiled egg and found a complete dead chick inside I wasn’t put off eating them. So egg collecting and chicken feeding had to be done and this was probably my first lesson in ‘get on with it’.
photo by Simeon Howden
Easter in the garden, a time of high stress for me – the Easter Rabbit used the natural cover of the garden to hide chocolate Easter eggs for us children, small by today’s standards and empty but chocolate all the same – sweets were rationed still. Our Rabbit was a kindly soul he left eggs for adults as well! Blessed if I could ever find mine. The rest of the family would be inside unwrapping theirs while I vainly and tearfully searched. Each egg wrapped in bright primary shiny coloured paper for goodness sake! Why could I never find one? Dad would keep me company when all the others had gone in, suggesting places for me to look. Some years an egg would be ‘found’, left unclaimed and I would be directed gently toward it. However, I wanted to find an egg myself and wouldn’t be helped. My own worst enemy! I always found one in the end but some years lunch would be on the table before I did. Do not imagine with lived on an estate. An ordinary suburban garden. I am still bad at finding things!
I developed a liking for worms in those childhood gardens. Rescuing any I found on the path, gently picking them up and tucking them under some earth (I wonder if that’s where they wanted to go?) And when Dad dug his borders, exposing them to danger, (how could he? I told him off every time) I scooped earth over to prevent the waiting robin from eating them. My sense of fairness and justice offended at the thought that people were instrumental in loading the dice in favour of the hunter. If the robin wanted a meal he jolly well ought to work for it.! I still cover them up 6 decades later when I have been digging – some habits are hard to break.
I found out recently from a neighbour, re-found in cyberspace, that we held our *bonfire night in the front garden of that first house. I remember nothing of it. Did I dislike fireworks back then? I’m not keen now. Intolerance of loud noises being one of the collections of problems dyspraxia has given me. I know I have always been ‘afraid’ of the dark so maybe I have blotted Guy Fawkes out of my childhood memories, as being too unpleasant to remember – who knows.
Then when I was seven we moved to the second garden of my childhood.
*A stamp of a lion put on eggs to prove their freshness. I can only suppose the egg had been a bought one during the poor egg laying time.
*Guy Fawkes 5th of November.