Irene Waters has posted some beautiful and awe inspiring photos of the garden she lovingly created with her husband for the Sunday Stills challenge. Without Irene’s versatile blogging I’d not have come across this and would have missed the opportunity to remember the way in which my parents lovingly crafted their garden out of pretty much nothing over twenty five years. I don’t think I have quite followed the rules but then this wouldn’t be TanGental if I did.
Mum was always a gardener and had ambition and energy. She was inspired by the likes of Major Lawrence Johnston and his garden at Hidcote. If you haven’t been and are in the UK, go there, especially when the lavender is flowering.
We moved to deepest, if not darkest, Hampshire in 1970, to a jerry built New Forest Cottage (Dad’s words). The garden was about a third of an acre, laid to grass apart from three non fruiting plum trees about fifteen feet from the back door and some equally sterile apples down one side The hedges had been their since woad was the mode of formal dress for the residents (and hadn’t been trimmed much in the interim). The concept of topsoil had also passed the New Forest by. Let’s face it; if it had been any good for growing crops that’s what Ancient Britons would have done. This excited Mum to a ridiculous degree. Here are some pictures of the garden back then.
To understand the changes note the telephone lines to the right. That and the plums (in the foreground) and the apple tree half way down on the left are pretty much the only constants.
Back towards the house…
The weeping willow wasn’t a great idea; it was planted right next to the illegal overflow from the cesspit and no doubt thrived after each bath. I learnt, years later, that Dad knew full well of the existence of the overflow (and that it wasn’t legal – it flowed into the ditch next to the hedge – yuk!) He admitted that, every time the council came to cut the verge that ran next to the ditch he’d pop out (if he was home) for a chat and to try and ensure they never spotted the overflow! It worked for twenty yeas until one hot summer the smell gave him away and he had to pay for the installation of a septic tank.
The Archaeologist and I were often involved in Mum’s various garden crimes. She had various euphemisms for them. Take ‘hint buckets’. Because the soil was so bad, Mum’s long term plan was to dig out a large amount and replace it with compost and pony manure (the car always had two plastic sacks in the boot; if driving anywhere we came across pony droppings, we stopped, filled a sack and stuck it in the boot – Mum would never countenance paying for well rotted horse manure from the many stables around where we lived if she could get stuff for free, however much the car stank). The hint buckets were left by the side gate, which was only used by the postman and the Archaeologist and me when we cycled to school. If we found one blocking our way we were expected to pick it up, stagger across the road to the verge opposite (it was very wide before the fence to the fields behind) and dump it as far back as we could. Today that’s fly tipping. When the fields changed hands some fifteen years later the owners, with whom Mum and Dad were very friendly, wondered who had been dumping clay. Mum sympathised.
Mum spent an unconscionable amount of time in the garden with her bucket, her trowel and her transistor radio. She listened avidly to what was originally the Home Service before it became Radio 4. A radio was always on in our house, burbling away, from the Today programme in the morning until the evening episode of the Archers (probably the longest running radio soap in the world – it started in the 1940s and is still going, god forbid). After that she switched to the TV and her sewing basket. When Dad retired in the late 80s and was at home full time he would try and turn the radio off but had to give up. He started arguing with it, much to Mum’s frustration (she liked to listen to the opinions of others, not Dad’s scratched record). So frustrated was she that eventually she bought a pair of pink fluffy ears and tied them to the radio. ‘What are they for?’ ‘To remind you that my radio is a sensitive girl and doesn’t like being shouted at’. ‘Humpf.’ But he did stop the haranguing.
While the garden was Mum’s project, don’t go away witH the notion the Archaeologist and Me weren’t heavily involved beyond the tipping.
And so, over twenty five years, Mum with the help of some willing fools, created a delight out of a bare canvas.
When Dad died in 2005, Mum gave me an envelope filled with his poems. He was a shy man, hating to expose his emotions and feelings – he was better in his latter years – and had told her he didn’t want the Archaeologist and me to see his more personal poems. What he was referring to were the poems that he wrote for each of Mum’s birthdays every year for about thirty years. Inevitably some were about her passion for her garden and the ones below, from the beginning of the 90s, were some of the loveliest. If you have a chance take a look.
The joys of the gardener, what magic she worked and how your father loved her and appreciated her efforts! Thanks for sharing the poems and the photos!
Now they are both gone, it’s a neat way of bringing them to life a little. Thank you for indulging me.
No thank you, my parents both gone now like your hid their feelings! Sadly my eldest brother sold our family home of over 60yrs and moved to the sea (???) five minutes from my other brother ! I miss the old home it was an anchor ………….
I understand that. My mum was utterly unsentimental about the house after dad died, including her garden. She knew she couldn’t maintain it so handed it on. As she was happy to move I was to, though my kids and my brothers were all shocked. Now of course I miss the old place. Maybe that’s why I set my novel (due out soonish!) in a issue that was very similar…
No doubt we all write what we know. 🙂
What an amazing transformation! It gives me hope for what I might be able to do here, after all I have plenty of pony poop! It was truly a life’s work. The bit about the radio cracks me up. When the Hub is home he’s constantly arguing with the internet news. Hmmm…I need to find pink fuzzy ears…
The pink fuzzy ears moderated a number of moments of marital strife in the Le Pard household.
Just read those lovely poems. I didn’t even know your Mum and Dad yet, here I am crying. So beautiful, their little piece of England, their love and what they’ve passed down to you and the Archaeologist. Thank you for sharing.
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Amongst mum’s garden crimes, you didn’t mention ‘summer pruning’ this was horticultural theft. If she saw a shrub she liked the look of she would surreptitiously take a cutting and slip it into her handbag. When visiting National Trust gardens the rest of the family would keep well clear of mum, not to be associated with her criminality if she got caught. Her finest moment came when she had taken and propagated a cutting from a shrub outside the public library. Then she couldn’t identify it, so she went to the library and asked what it was, they were very helpful, they contacted the council and after quite a bit of work on their part got the information she wanted. They even found a nursery selling the shrub so she could buy one!
As for the radio, mum also would talk to it, especially during ‘Gardner’s Question Time’ when people brought their gardening problems to a panel of experts. As the question was asked mum would mutter, ‘needs lime’, ‘roll mop beetle’ or similar. We would then listen to see if she was correct, she always was.
Once a ‘Gardner’s Question Time Roadshow’ came to a nearby National Trust garden and she was in the audience. As one problem was stated the presenter asked if the audience had any idea, up went mums hand, a few minutes later and mum answered the question again. After a few more times it was, ‘anyone in the audience apart from the lady in the brown coat.’ Then there was a question that caused disagreement in the panel of experts and the presenter turned to mum, she was prompt with her answer. At the end of the event the presenter turned to the audience and said that, as everybody knew, the roadshow was promoting a series of garden guides that the BBC had just published, and that although she clearly didn’t need them, he felt that it was only right that mum was presented with a set. The audience applauded.
I almost added summer pruning but left it for you! My best (worst) memory is at school when she had a broken toe. On the way to whatever event it was she ignore the break and hobbled unaided to the hall. On the way backpack she took my arm and went really slowly pausing ‘for breath’ outside the headmaster’s office. I was quite concerned – mum didn’t do pain – but after a moment there was a sot to voce ‘got it’ and she headed off to the car no longer impeded. The ‘cutting’ had been secured and I was an unwitting accessory.
Oh Geoff, I absolutely love this post for so many reasons. Where to start? Firstly, I love the way you took us through the years of your mum’s ‘gardening crimes’ (love that) to show us the marvellous transformation from nothing, virtually, to a proper, beautiful English garden. Reminds me so much of my mum who, at 78, is still gardening and has turned every garden she’s had into a thing of beauty just as your mum has. Secondly, of course I have to mention the summerhouse(s)? Say no more, you know of my adoration of them 🙂 Thirdly, my mum also used to listen to the radio all the time too and that really took me back to ‘those days’ of coming home from school on a warm spring day only to hear the radio playing from the kitchen, back door open and Mum busy at work outside in the garden somewhere. We never had the pink, fluffy ears though… ! An utterly delightful post written with humour and wit (laughed out loud at the cess pit and the ‘fly tipping’) but also with the love for and of your family woven through so touchingly. As for your dad’s wonderful poems well, all I can say is thank you so much for sharing them, and how lovely that you have them to remember him and your precious family years by 🙂
It is so easy to reminisce about the two of them, parts of a larger whole.
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Geoff I am so glad that my post brought back these wonderful memories for you of the garden your Mum obviously loved. I particularly liked your Dad’s second poem about their little piece of England as he made every corner of the garden come alive. I bet your Mum was really proud of the creation she was responsible for. As always you had me smiling with your descriptions. I’m in awe of your Mum digging the clay out by hand.
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