I have spoken often of my mothers influence on my garden life. My father did help but it was her domain really. My earliest memories of her are clad in her cotton boiler suit crouched among the soft fruit trees picking.
Mum would be out every moment that could be spared from the house and chores. She wasn’t very fanatical about housework, in fact one of the only two pieces of advice she offered to any female friends about to be wed was to remember that housework will outlast us all, the second piece was to make sure they had their own bank account. Radical bits of advice back then.
There was shopping to be done and, back when there was no fridges or freezers, that was most days, cooking to be done, always a dog to be exercised. Later there would be the two grandmothers to see too. But her heart was outside amongst the plants.
My parents never did any gardening as children and had to learn from a book. They only had two at the beginning, a large RHS book on the subject, and a very tatty late Victorian book. Mum confessed to me when I began my journey into the craft, that her first packet of seeds had been radishes and every one had come up. She and Dad were not that keen on them but dutifully munched their way through the entire crop. Dad would always shudder if he spoke of it declaring it would be a long time before he could look them in the eye again. I don’t remember them ever being offered when I was young so maybe Mum felt the same about them..
They had a neighbour, a know it all gardener who insisted on leaning over the fence and telling them they were doing every thing wrong. She disliked that man, preferring to make her mistakes in private; he had left by the time I could remember anything to be replaced with one who only mowed a lawn occasionally!
If there had been no war at he beginning of her adult life I suspect Mum would have been a traveller of lands, she yearned for the new, for excitement, for change. However, by the time the war was over she had a husband and three children. She wasn’t going anywhere. She did though encourage my ambitions in that direction.
Where she could escape the house, the children, the prying neighbours. Where she could dream, plan, relax and be uniquely herself. As I mentioned in the frogs there was no telling her what or not to do out there. As far as she was concerned she could do the whole lot herself. She could, and did, dig for hours when needed. She may not have been a builder of walls and paths as Dad was but she created new beds and water courses herself from virgin lands.
She enjoyed the help that mechanics gave her. A rotavator came in useful in the garden with the thick sticky clay soil. Motorised lawn mowers on the field she turned into a garden. In her 40s she was given a cement mixer for a present; she had taken over from Dad, that side of the garden, due to his health. In her element she could mix a mean concrete.
Not content with creating what became known as her ‘follies’, she decided some livestock would be good! As I have said previously she and I had wandered a little off course into self sufficiency, Mum wanted animals, my agenda was the plants. I know Dad did his best to discourage her. We had looked after a couple of sheep for some friends when their grass had run out and because they had been relatively easy she decided to purchase some cows and raise them for the freezer.
Well, that was always going to be a domed enterprise. Mum was the saviour of injured birds and nurturer of premature kittens. Not the slaughterer of cows.
First mistake, she only bought two.
Second mistake she named them.
Third mistake she left their horns on.
They loved her, as much as any cow can, as the bringer of treats and playmate.
They became angsty teenagers – with horns.
We had to carry stout sticks, or in my case a broom handle! Mum’s disappointment and frustration in this whole idea was that no one in the family wanted livestock. We helped her as much as we could, even Dad could herd them. But we didn’t like them. They did go for slaughter, somewhere else. Mum couldn’t eat them, they were her friends, she had grown fond of them, so none of us benefited from the work.
She returned to what she did best. Managing a very large garden helped by Dad who was limited by is heart problems and myself who was a learner.
She grew flowers always for the garden, disallowing them to be picked for the house. Dad was allowed to pick roses because he grew them and he liked one on his desk. We were allowed to bring in – wind damaged plants. It was amazing really how many ‘wind damaged’ daffodils we could find!:)
All in all over the course of her married life she was involved either in the changing or the creating of 11 gardens. Over the years she had managed sandy light soil, heavy clay and stony. Produced her magic in full sun and deep shade. Grown fruit and vegetable, simple flowers and complex ones. She had nurtured trees and shrubs - all from two books. She had also managed to pass on her skills to a reluctant gardener - moi.
Looking back over the years and looking at the photos, one can plot the changing styles and ideas so well. Always that boiler suit, there must have been new ones over time, and the contrast between Mum the gardener and Mum the beautiful well turned out hostess was a whole new person. In the summer these pictures sit side by side in the albums. We have photographic evidence of every step she took. Of every flower bed, every fruit tree almost.
There was no doubt the garden was where she was happiest.
Mum’s stated ambition was to stop gardening when she was 70 and sit in a swinging chair and enjoy just looking.
That was never to be.
She only stopped when her legs would no longer keep her safe. Then she could sit, a frustrated gardener.
Our new abode was going to be the first I had ever owned, the garden mine to plan myself. But what in life is ever how one plan? We were a family and the garden was a family affair. We sat together and planned the house and garden together. She would come out in her wheelchair and watch the progress, and when finally bed ridden and unable to see, I would tell her of the adventures out there, the triumphs and disasters.
Right to the end she had a garden.