My Gran used to say that the best thing about gardening was the anticipation. For much of her life her only outside area was a backyard in Newcastle, but it was always bursting with colour, a handkerchief-sized space that was well-tended and well-loved.
I lost my Gran a decade ago at the age of 94. Her life hadn’t always been easy but, nevertheless, she felt blessed. Her faith was her touchstone and I remember that, well into retirement, her and her sister Eleanor organised the flowers for their local church and helped out with church maintenance. On one memorable occasion, she was cleaning the confessional only to discover her cat Pugwash having a nap. Initially horrified, she later remarked that the ginger tom had sought out the only seat in the building with a comfy cushion.
While I never really knew my Grandad, my earliest memory is of standing in a hallway looking at him and my Gran. I must have been about three-years-old at the time. All I remember are their smiling faces and a feeling of intense happiness. I know I was smiling too.
I have thought often about this scene, but it was only recently that I learnt what it meant. I was standing in the entrance of their terraced house, still wearing my coat, because Grandad couldn’t wait to give me a present. It was a little doll wearing a pink jacket and trousers which Gran had knitted. I loved that doll. Suddenly I understood why that memory had never left me. He died shortly afterwards but I still have that doll with her long eyelashes and tiny outfit.
I’ve been thinking about my grandparents a lot lately, in particular my Gran and her love of nature as I plan my new garden. In my last article, I wrote about the mental health benefits of gardens and gardening, as well as the innate joy of being outdoors in your own patch of land.
I recently moved house to a semi-rural location in south Lancashire. My well-laid plans for pergolas embraced by clematis and tender annuals wafting in the breeze have been jettisoned thanks to a brisk climate where reclaiming your bins from three doors down is commonplace.
But, as I’m slowly learning, gardening in the north of England – and I mean proper north – needn’t mean a garden choked with conifers, weeds and non-flowering plants.
I’m an optimist but I’m also an avid viewer of gardening shows. Yes, tele advice on gardening in anything other than a sheltered space with clement weather is about as likely as Monty Don digging up Longmeadow and replacing it with a Formica deck. You know what, though? Like so many things in life, gardening is about trial and error.
With this in mind, I have bought a number of plants that I know will make me happy. I haven’t gone crazy – I’m not about to invest in a palm that only thrives in California – but I reckon that a couple of roses and some hardy grasses might see me right, to begin with at least.
And so now I have a variety of young plants ready to be potted into the garden. Among them are two fragrant roses, one of which, the Rosa Ferdinand Pichard, looks like raspberry ripple ice cream and smells good enough to eat. Then there’s the Miscanthus sinensis Red Cloud and the pampas grass, both of which I’ve been coveting ever since I saw the Rich brothers use them in BBC’s Garden Rescue.
I’m at the beginning of my gardening journey. But I can almost hear those stems shuddering in the northern wind.
This article first appeared in Catena magazine