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23. Growing Memories

On our Silver Surfer Pages recently I wrote about big and little events and by the nature of what I wrote I found myself reflecting back and pondering on things that have happened in my life. Now just the other day I happened to hear my wife commenting to one of our grown up children, “I don’t think we’ll ever move. I just enjoy the garden so much and it is lovely to watch plants grow and the garden change.”  That again triggered memories of our garden.

Now why do we all garden if it is not for pleasure? Yes, it is often said today that gardening is therapeutic, good for calming the soul, but it has crossed my mind that part of the joy of having a garden is the fact that it changes and in changing creates memories of what once was but is no longer. Of course for this to happen you have to live in one place for a decent length of time. Amazingly we have now been in this same place for just forty years. There are benefits to that which I’ll cover in a parallel article on the Silver Surfer pages, but for now I want to ask you to have a thought about the changes in the garden you have seen over the years. My parents seemed to move every four years in my childhood and, yes, I do have good memories of each of the gardens, but with no sense of achievement that I now have as I sit in the sun sometimes, down the bottom of our garden, and think of the changes that have taken place over the years.

If your garden has hardly changed at all, shame on you. Gardens are all about change. I am a fan of Monty Don of Gardener’s World fame. He has a garden, in Herefordshire I believe, called Long Meadow, where he has lived for over twenty years and he says of it, “I never think it is finished – just what it is now.” Let me take you down our memory lane, hopefully as a means of either challenging you to garden with change and the future in mind, or to prompt you to have the pleasure of stirring the memory cells.

Our first Garden when we were married was about twelve feet wide and about 25 feet long, with a garage at the end, and a tiny shed just outside the back door where we had a little garden chair so we could sit in the door opening in the sun. We struggled to manage the garden!  After a few years we moved to Rochford and we found ourselves, more by accident than plan, with a 300 feet long plot, the back garden of which had about nine trees, loads of old roses, half a dozen broken down old sheds, and not a lot else except grass about three feet high. My father came in with a large scythe and got rid of the grass. As we were expecting out first child I worked at removing all the old roses – some sixty or so of them!  They are not child friendly.

When we moved in neither of us were gardeners of any brand; we just pottered. I worked in the garden at weekends and it gradually changed, more often by “let’s try this”, than by clever planning. Sheds have always featured highly for us, simply because, as I’ve said there were for some mysterious reason half a dozen broken down old sheds already there. For me these days a garden is not a garden unless it has at least three sheds! That may include a garage (definition: place for storing junk or turning into a workshop), a potting shed or goodness knows what – but you must have a shed! Where else will you put your garden tools, the mower, the leaf-hoover and goodness knows what else modern garden centres entice us with? But that’s just the place you store tools. A proper shed is…. we’ll, leave that for another day! I daren’t tell you how many we have today and why, but the changes in our ‘sheds’ is a very real part in our history. The old garage the children played in, fell down and bits of it were used to create a vinery, an undercover area with a vine growing in. The old greenhouse fell down and was replaced by a potting shed with a sloping glass front.  Often the changes came because the old ones were old and fell down and so replacement was a major motivating force. I never liked throwing wood away and if I hear of anyone throwing wood away, I’m there. Most of our early replacement sheds were home made - but there had to come a day when that changed.

Similarly, with bricks; never throw bricks away. We have a number of raised brick beds now. My sons look at them and mutter about getting a bricklayer in, and I speak of the antique brickwork, over which lobelia trails today.  I am very happy with the look!  So sheds fell down, new ones rose in their place, brick walls appeared around the place. And then there was water. I am a fan of enticing wildlife as you’ll see on other pages here. So I built what became known as ‘the water feature’, rectangular brick with an old marble slab about half way up on which old sheet plastic kept the water in. Irises, grasses and other water plants plus a couple of friendly frogs completed it. A few years later, after further appreciation by grandchildren, a small pond appeared in another spot which recently has been the home of nine toads.

Trees have also featured a lot in our garden when I think back. 1987 saw the gales take down five or seven trees (depending on who in the family tells the story). We have over the years planted well over thirty trees, with a number of them that have been formed into hedges that either surround or divide the garden. When on holiday many years ago when the children were small, in a motor way service station I saw a leaflet saying that if you sent off a coupon they would send you a free tree. We collected up three coupons off the tables and three small trees eventually arrived. They are now all over twenty feet high. A friend offloaded a silver birch sapling in my direction and it is now the tallest tree in the garden.  In recent years an industrious squirrel has planted two oak trees and a walnut tree in appropriate places. The first oak tree is now over twenty feet high. This squirrel is also responsible (because we’re not) for my wife having a new hobby – digging up walnut saplings and giving them away to friends. At least  a dozen in the past six months!

Which takes us on to the wildlife which, as I said before I’ve covered on a previous page. Badgers, foxes, squirrels, hedgehogs, voles and mice have come and gone over the years. The hedgehogs sadly disappeared because of the arrival of a badger but he seems to have moved on, for which we are grateful. Birds love hedges and trees and we now have plenty of them although they have changed their shape over the years. Dividing fences or trellises have come and gone, paving slabs and gravel have increased, new paths have been formed.

Bushes and shrubs have grown and with the rain and sun of this summer the garden looks more lush than it has ever done. Plants have a history of their own. Some things grew well and have increased in size and beauty, other things died and were cleared away. New likes and dislikes have occurred in respect of plants, new knowledge, new experiences, new fun, new failures, but there is always tomorrow while we still have the health and energy – and there is a whole new area for consideration!!!

Now I say all this as a challenge to you. How long have you lived where you are? If it is more than five years, you have the beginnings of a store of memories. How long are you likely to stay there? More than five years? Then you can do things now that will have caused a big change in five years. What has changed? How did it happen?  Our changes have taken place by gales, natural decay, people giving us things – plants, planters, trees and so on. The garden is a living and changing environment, not a functional patch but a potential joy. Grab it, go for it, or just go and put a chair in a shady place and think back, what was where in the days gone by, what has changed? Wow!  Enjoy your memories; make some memories!

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