“Gardens,” said Mr Rudyard Kipling,”were not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.”
Once upon the time the garden was my baby. I loved plants and despised decking, idolised Vita Sackville West and her life’s work at Sissinghurst; I wrote for the paper on gardens, I planted and loved mine tenderly, and as all gardens do, this one, a little patch of earth in Kent, it thanked me.
Phil and I would barter: how much lawn can I dig up? Where might I place another bed?
And we are talking small gardens here. There are houses with big gardens in England, but there are many more with modest little patches of earth. I crammed a tiny Kent garden with colour and form and traditional borders, and Phil said I could have the grass as long as I sank small clay terracotta pots and made him a miniscule nine-hole golf course.
Which I did: and Summer nights were spent with tipsy friends trying to coax golf balls around the smallest course in England.
Gardens have manners. They are polite. When one lavishes care and attention on one, it is like one of those guests who, with every syllable, make you resolve more firmly to have them back again another time. Their company is a salve, a diverting conversation, a quiet companionable silence.
But when you leave them, and neglect them, they become like a recalcitrant child.
And it has been a trying few years here in England. Rain and cold do not encourage one to go out into the garden. Winter generally sends one inside for months at a time, leaving the garden to the cat and the dog, the fox and even the odd badger.
That and family are my excuses for neglecting the baby I once loved with such a passion.
Yesterday I looked out at the disgruntled garden which, ever since I moved in, I have so often ignored and short-changed.
It is a strange place, all paved and yet there is the forest at the fence, craning towards the little space with all its mighty strength, a small bastion of human occupation squaring uncertainly up to nature.
And I began. I put all the old plastic toys and bikes and pots and rubbish in the car and drove it to the tip. I set Phil to burning the old broken garden bench. He loves burning things.
Inch by inch I began reclamation of that space. I love you, forest, I said to it, but back off.
With secateurs I warded the old tree-spirits off, and I dug borders. My daughter was interested: but 12 years olds do not have a woman’s eyes, and things like weeds and dug borders fly past them unnoticed. I gave her some earth and a trowel and some flowers and she sat among the weeds happily planting. Thus is a love of plants engendered.
After a day of back-breaking work the bones of the old garden were showing again.
May Sarton said it best: “Everything that slows us down and forces patience,,” she observed,” everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.”
Teatime. Phil suggested fish-and-chips and everyone said ooooh, yes please.
And after Maddie had pottered off with Phil to pick up dinner, I looked at her garden.
It had its own monolith, and unlike the great rocks of Avebury and Stonehenge this had pretty flowers planted at its feet. And it was inscribed: “Away with the fairies.”
Never a truer word.
A response to Side View’s weekend theme: Amusing Consequences, details of which you may find here.