Like most nine-year olds, I vowed never to be like my dad. Dad was, and still is, an avid gardener, and would spend long days in our garden or in the greenhouse at the school where he was head teacher. He’d run lunchtime gardening activities with the kids there, in the days when heads were more than corporate figureheads. I have two memories of that greenhouse garden – cacti, grown from seeds in terracotta pots, that for years never seemed to change, and a huge fennel, which amazed me with its liquorice scent when I broke a piece off.
For a while, my sister, brother and I had our own little plot in mum and dad’s garden. I’d advise all parents to do this. We were free to do with it what we liked. Aside from an old tap, which I painted black and stuck in the ground, I don’t remember much about our little gardens. But I do remember that they were all very different – two ‘formal’ and one ‘wild’. Hours were spent tending my patch, making potions or seeing if woodlice could swim in the puddle that formed on the garage roof (they couldn’t, but they could walk for ages underwater).
During teenage years gardening changed its meaning. It became the endless watering of hundreds of begonia-laden hanging baskets while mum and dad were on holiday. Inevitably I would forget, the begonias would meet their doom and I would think up ever more elaborate excuses as to how they’d died (it’s amazing how many heat waves Northampton saw in the 90s). Dad, of course, knew.
As a student, gardens were the furthest thing from my mind. If we were lucky enough to have one it would grow into a mass of long grass and weeds, brilliant for wildlife but bad for dad, who’d arrive every few months with a mower (optimistic) and shears (more realistic) and tame the lawn. We’d vow to look after it, have one barbecue then leave it for another two months, distracted by Manchester’s finest student attractions.
It was only when I began work as a teacher that I began to realise what gardening is about. We’d moved to Eastbourne and rented a ground floor flat with a little patch of grass out the back. I wanted an instant place for us to relax – out came the mower, the sheers, the weedkiller. I had no idea what I was doing but I didn’t care. Plants were pruned (hacked?) to within and inch of their lives and a lot were planted in the wrong place and died. But surprisingly, the garden forgave me. It became a beautiful place to forget the distractions of life. I read a lot about the frustrations of gardening – slugs will always win – but I realised then that gardens are also pretty forgiving. I’d got the bug.
When we moved up north a garden was a priority and we were lucky to find this place. As I describe on the other blog posts the garden, and my attitude to it, has evolved. I’ve learnt to be patient and not throw chemicals on everything to get an instant fix. I value the peace and distraction the garden give me – it’s therapy, in its best form. I love watching our boys exploring it wholeheartedly, covered in mud, though I draw the line at woodlice experiments. And most of all, I will never, ever grow tired of the excitement and amazement that I feel when I see a tiny green shoot poking up out of the soil after the cold, dark, winter months. It’s like I’m nine all over again.