Not much has been said about my father’s part in the gardens of my life. He was there but doing 'man' things! He would mow straight lines in the lawn with neat precision. He could turn the compost heap at the bottom of the garden with ease. He built straight paths and walls. He also grew roses. He was very fond of roses.
I helped him. When horses were common around the streets of London I would be sent out with a bucket to capture whatever horse manure I could find on the road, before any other gardener did. Extra pocket money was always welcome. That was the only help I gave him. No-one else was allowed to tend them.
He would keep an eye on new varieties, sending off for them after consulting catalogues. If he and Mum visited any garden show he always came back with one. Long after he had had to give up grass mowing and heavy work because of age and health he still tended his roses.
They were not my favourite flower, too many thorns. I could admire their beauty and breathe in their scent but handle them? perish the thought. He grew the roses after the custom of the day, in neat well weeded beds. Lots of bare earth between. I never understood that, still don’t, it is the flowers one needs to admire not those bare stems. Cover them up is my motto now, I mix my roses into the herbaceous plants, in amongst the raspberries and herbs, even in the hedges.
I have to have roses somewhere in my scheme, they have always been in my gardens. I still have one that he tended, carried through three gardens. Dad may not approve of where I grow them but he would approve of the fact that I spurn the highly bred scentless varieties and only have those with scents that a person can drown in.
He had other favourites among the flowers, one of which would drive my garden proud aunt mad with frustration. He liked dandelions. Would let them flower (in flowerbeds not his lawns) she would lecture him yearly when she came to visit, on this folly. ‘They will seed everywhere’ she would moan.
Dad liked them, and I aided and abetted him:) I still let them grow in the garden, if I need the space I pull one up and put something in its place; if Dad liked them that was always going to be good enough for me:)
He also grew tobacco. Encouraged by the government of the time. In a bid to reduce imported tobacco during and just after the war. These plants were amazing to a small child. The leaves were enormous, almost as big as me in the photos we have. They grew swiftly and the fun would begin as I helped him harvest and carry them into whatever shed he was drying them in. There I would help hang them up to dry, then watch as they became crinkly, I helped to tie the leaves into neat bundles and put into a press. The next bit we didn’t do, the pressed leaves were sent away and came back already to be put into his pipes. That was an operation I could watch for ages. There is something very relaxing about a man loading his pipe up. The whole ritual soothes:)
Dad was also the chopper and saw-er of firewood, I would watch him as he placed the wood on his ‘horse’, goggles over his eyes and saw away, producing, in magic time, logs to warm us in the winter. Sometimes he would split them, that fascinated even more, and I thought he must be one of the strongest fathers going, he wasn’t of course, he was a pen pusher:)
When he came into the house for lunch he would smell of fresh sweat, the Guinness he was drinking and pipe smoke. When I was small enough I would sit on his knee and breathe him in, thinking his combination of aromas even better than the roses.