Friday, 13 April 2012

Forgotten gardening exploits

Propped up on the sofa, nursing a sore throat and trying to fend off an incipient cold, I could look out at a garden that is both totally of me and totally surprising for the me that I see in my own mind.

It was a typically English April day; showers interspersed with bursts of sun; a cast of faint spring green over the whole scene.

What I could see directly was a potted box, leafing pyracantha; a pale green, iron table and chairs, pansies and violas, and an ornamental canal boat milk churn lying on its side.

Beyond, there's the carpark and then the old, characterful wall that borders the park, covered in ivy; in between, a young silver birch that soars high and sways in even the gentlest breeze, and in the park itself, a plane tree that always seems to be one of the last things into bloom every spring, but which is now visibly on the way.

And because the schools are still on holiday and there is therefore less traffic around then normal, there is a soundtrack of birdsong to accompany this very English vista.

But now you've got that picture in your mind's eye, I feel the need to explain about that churn. Some years ago, we had a brief phase of going canal boating. After a number of short trips, we decided to do a longer one - the Leicester Ring. We had two weeks - a tight schedule for that route, meaning no days without cruising.

The Other Half worked on the basis that it is a canal tradition that Other Halves do the "complex, technical stuff " - or driving the boat, to you and me - and the women do the hard physical graft, otherwise known as doing the locks.

I did over 100 locks that fortnight, including the full flight at Foxton and a particularly stubborn one in Leicester one evening in the pouring rain as I realised that my supposedly waterproof kagool was anything but.

The weather in general was far from great and I spent much of the time between locks sitting on my own in the cabin, reading a biography of RFK, teaching myself to play solitaire and listening to the radio.

The churn and a jug were bought as souvenirs of a trip that increasingly - as far as I was concerned, at any rate - became our last canal trip. They have been gathering dust on a shelf for the time since.

But back to the here and now.

A week or so ago, it dawned on me that although I had long thought that, if and when I got around to it, I'd be trying to create a sort of Mediterranean influenced garden.

But in this weather at least, it has the look of a rather dainty English garden. Okay, accepting that the rusted, iron cat planter is a touch of tweeness that is hardly Med styling (I was never going to get away with a gnome), I would have thought that the terracotta pots and the lemon tree and a lot of the herbs would have gone down that route.

Yet even with the lemon, it looks rather more Surrey than the south of France.

It will, in the coming months, get even more so. One of the things that will be added somewhere is forget me nots.

I had forgotten those delicate little flowers, but once seeing a packet of seeds, I was soaring away on a Proustian flight of gardening memories.

My father didn't do gardening. And nor did my mother. In retrospect, I don't know how our gardens ever stayed the right side of wilderness.

Although when we lived in Fulham, it didn't. With an old air raid shelled at the back, it was close to being a jungle.

I don't have strong memories of the garden in Bolton before that and certainly not of Tebay before that.

After London came Mossley and that's where my memories take far more concrete form.

The house was on the side of a hill, facing the Pennines. A long drive ran along one side; a steep haul up toward a battered old garage that was pretty much impassable in snow.

Next to the garage was a little shed. The shed - I can almost smell it now - rather unofficially became a little den for my sister and I.

I cannot remember how or even why, but I grew forget me nots in empty yogurt pots. I can't recall where I got them from - not seeds - but I have vague memories of my mother informing me that I wasn't to plant them out as they'd run riot and take over. But somehow, I grew those dainty, blue flowers in recycled plastic pots.

Then, after that memory had popped back into my mind, more crept out of the woodwork between my ears.

I remembered weeding that drive, which would otherwise get ridiculously overgrown. And I also cut the privet hedge that ran the full length of that drive. Sometimes, if memory serves, I'd mow the small lawn at the back of the house. What I certainly did do was neaten up the edges with a half moon-shaped tool with a t-shaped handle with rubber grips.

I can't remember if these were chores I was given - or whether I did them off my own bat and at least partly for pleasure. And I can't remember whether I ever got any financial recompense for my sweat.

But it was odd to recall that my currents efforts are not my first green fingered outings. And that's why forget me nots will eventually find a place in my own garden before very long.

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