My feelings about my garden are a bit conflicted.
During the course of this summer, my children and I have been able to pull strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries straight from the plant to our mouths, or fill willing little hands and other depositories with heaps of soft fruit, ready for use in smoothies and pies, or as a side order to breakfast or pudding. We also have a four year old tree currently loaded with fat and rosy apples. Around the kitchen window trails a rose which in early summer flowers with heady scented and romantically huge pink velvet petals which harbour raindrops and sparkle in the sunlight.
Does this sound idyllic? I know it is, and I know I’m lucky. I feel guilty about the reservations I’m about to voice.
I look out of the kitchen window right now, and mainly I see mess. I mean, you could say it’s lush and verdant, but it’s also so so rampant, like nothing else in my life.
This isn’t a large space, you understand. Perhaps I’ve given the impression that I live in the Tudor manor surrounded by orchards I dreamed about as a child, but no. This is an ordinary sized house on an ordinary street, with a square of garden which, in addition to the things I’ve already mentioned, also contains a shed, a playhouse with slide, an old bath full of rubble and, until recently, tattered rhubarb (don’t even ask), 2 large rain butts, a composter and, towards the back, a hole dug in the lawn where my son, I think was trying to recreate the conditions at Verdun, and mud-wise largely succeeded.
How does my garden grow? Too well, I fear.
The raspberry and blackberry plants it transpires have a natural instinct to take over beyond the bed they were originally planted in – I find their shoots at the opposite side of the garden, coming up through the lawn, under the apple tree and beneath the playhouse slide. Left unchecked I believe they’d swiftly cover the entire village. The roses spread their tendrils over the central heating ventilation and block light into the kitchen. The apple tree’s trunk has listed so completely to one side it is pretty much parallel with the ground, leaving some apples rotting on the grass and prey to wasps, while other branches reach for the skies in what is surely an unsustainable way.
Everything has thorns, like vicious teeth, which scratch and pluck at my skin whenever I make an attempt to contain their growth.
I have absolutely no idea what to do about much of this, and very little spare time or mental energy to spend on the problem either. My helplessness mixes with guilty reproach every time I look out on the garden, and know I should be doing something.
If I’m honest, and if it had been left to me, what I would like from a garden is a pleasant place to sit, and a safe place for the children to play. Part of the problem is that the garden as it is, is a reflection of someone else’s vision; it’s now mine to make my own, but I need to find ways of doing that in a way that is maintainable for me without losing what is good about the garden now.
I do appreciate the connection with nature my children make when they eat fruit they have just picked from their own garden; and I also love to see the birds landing in the apple tree, and the bees buzzing around the lavender and poppies which flowered in our front garden this summer.
I have a glimmer of the way forward when I start pulling up the now dead poppies from our front garden, their seed heads scattering liberally as I do so. Flora asks how she can help, and Leo chats to us in a companionable way from out of the bedroom window. Passers by stop to chat with us. It actually feels nice. Leo reminds me how one day when his father was in the front garden an older man stopped to tell him how during the war this small plot was planted with vegetables to supplement the family’s rationed diet. It’s a reminder of how productively bountiful and life enhancing even a small space can be when carefully and properly tended.
Vegetable growing is definitely not the way forward for me – although I’ve enjoyed receiving courgettes and runner beans from my neighbour, and given her apples in return – my inability to cope with my fruit harvest shows me I don’t want to plant vegetables myself.
It’s right that the garden should provide continuity with our past, but it also needs to adapt to suit our current circumstances. My future plans are to involve the children and engage their interest, so that slowly, we can make a garden which has elements of the old but also reflects a new unique story of our own.