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A Brief Look Back: Gardening

My mother was never what you would call ‘Green fingered’. She had a good idea of how she wanted the house and garden to look and smell, aesthetically speaking, but it was really my father who excelled in that regard. In our first house, our garden was fairly small, but my father did what he could with the space he was given. I think that is what makes a gardener.

Sour gooseberries (which as a child I would love to feel, for their strange and furry texture, but hate to taste) were guided with green string along the fence and would bring a bounty of off-red or pistachio-in-colour berries, depending on the time of year. Grape vines would climb in a mangled mess along one of the walls – resembling cooked spaghetti – their grapes rendered inedible by Britains’ cold weather and lack of sunshine. The leaves, however, were often useful in my halfway-Greek household as the packaging of tasty home-made dolmades. There was the pear tree that grew near the back fence whose pears were hard to bite. In fact, they were so hard that the motion of biting down onto them would push back and cause my gums to bleed. This did not stop others from wanting a bite, however. We would regularly get pear scrumpers – which is an endearing term for thieves – who would climb the fence in an effort to sample the pears and my father, in an attempt to protect his territory, would see this out the back window of our sitting room and run into the garden, yelling profanities. I couldn’t understand at the time why this would get him so mad, especially since my father had a particular dislike for swear words of any type. We couldn’t watch any Eddie Murphy standup features in one sitting without hearing our father say ‘pardon’ in response to Murphy’s banter. Regardless, in my opinion, I think those pear scrumpers were doing us a great favour.

The rest of the garden was littered with a mishmash of colours and smells that would become especially alive in Spring and Summer months. I remember during such months sitting in the back garden atop a disused tablecloth, smelling the smells, looking at the different colours and admiring the bugs, whilst engaging in a picnic of peanut butter sandwiches and cloudy R Whites lemonade with my teddy bear Anna.

One day, I was out in the garden on another warm and fragrant day with my parents. There was a solitary rose that I would often look at out the window from my bedroom. I don’t remember the colour of it or how old I was apart from to say I believe I was very young. I remember ‘goofing around’, in the way a young child does when their parents are tirelessly hard at work in the garden. Bored and not paying attention to my surroundings, I stepped on a broom that had been laying in the grass, like a crocodile predatorily waits for its prey by the waterside, pretending to be a stray floating log. I became over-balanced and saw myself, in slow motion, falling backwards onto the sharp and surprisingly study rose. I cried out and weeped. My parents ran to my aide, my mother wiped the tears and affixed an adhesive see-through strip to the affected area. No longer ill at ease, I decided to actually help my parents. Perhaps I thought the powers that be were trying to teach me a lesson for not being helpful, or perhaps I realised at that moment that a garden was not a place for shenanigans. Either way, I was careful to keep a watchful eye of both the suspicious broom and its accomplice rose-friend that had hurt me in the incident. As result, I am still distrustful of roses and when given them, can normally be seen castrating the rose of its thorns and leaves. It took me a while to realise the two scenarios were related.

Before long, it was time to move out of the area. The bungalow we had once lived in was no longer ideal for a growing family so my parents moved us from Basildon, Essex to a place twenty minutes up the road called Benfleet. House number two had a far bigger garden, a notion which brought a great deal of happiness to my father and within a couple of years, my parents had accrued a great many plants.

They were a great team, my mother and father. My mother would pick the plants and my father would be the one to tend to them patiently and lovingly as if they were his additional children. Perhaps this was the reason my parents refused me a dog or a younger brother or sister to bug. Perhaps not.

Tending to the plants was how my father spent his evenings. During the day, he was the Head of IT at a respectable and nearby school. My mother was a children’s nurse. Her particular gardening challenge was the beautifully smelling Magnolia we kept in the dining room. However, to call it a challenge would suggest the plant and my mother had fairly equal chances of winning given perseverance of the cause. In reality, my mum always lost to the Magnolia, who in the end also lost to plant-death and soon became replaced with another. I used to joke with my father that the reason the Magnolias kept dying was because my mum had touched them. I have a significant memory that comes to mind of my mother stroking the leaves of one of the plants and cooing at it, like she does, whenever I think of how we used to tease her about this.

For the first four to five years after leaving home, my own attempts to build a little circle of plants were met with similar plant demise. My sister suggested this kept happening because I tended to name them, after a plant she named ‘mo’ money’ had shrivelled away. ‘No’, I thought, ‘Henry, Henry I, Henry II, Henry III, Henry IV, and Henry V didn’t die because of their name, they died because of my genetic connection to my mother.’ Incidentally, my then-boyfriend mocked me once for my clan of Henry’s and suggested when I got to Henry VIII that I should get it six friends, to which I replied that thereafter, Henry would ‘create and become head of his own plant-religion so he could divorce them as he wished’.

One and a half years on, I now live in a first floor flat with a friend. My back window is brightly lit by the sun, most days, and the window sill houses an array of plants of different shades of green. I appear to have found my plant forte for now. Perhaps in the future, when I have more time, patience and gardening ability, I will be more like my dad, and be able to manage multiple plants in multiple colours at one time. For now, I am happy to find joy in the tiny pink flowers on the cactus I have been coaxing to grow for me for over a year now.

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