I grew up in a house with a beautiful garden. Both of my parents were keen gardeners and my father in particular spent every summer evening and most of his weekends, when not in Church or watching Aston Villa play, tending his flower beds. Each year we would have a wide spread of spring bulbs, followed by trellises covered in rambling roses; walls disappearing behind deep purple clematis; canes bending under an abundance of sweet peas; chrysanthemums the size of saucers; and vividly-coloured dahlias, so beloved of earwigs. The smell of Lilly of the Valley, the sight of green tomatoes; or the touch of a velvet peony petal always takes me straight back to Ryland Road.
Over the years, I’ve tried sporadically to follow their example, although marrying a fervent non-gardener meant I was handicapped from the start. Our first garden was a mud patch behind a terrace in North London, shaded on all sides by high brick walls. I don’t remember ever managing to grow anything there.
In our second house — in semi-rural Kent — we had a very big garden and I tried, I really tried, to fill it with colour and scents. When we bought the house, half the land was given over to vegetables and I even attempted to keep this up for a while: potatoes, beans and peas, even asparagus — over the cat’s grave for extra nourishment — were planted and tenderly cared for. But gradually my planting scheme changed from annuals to forgiving shrubs and we slabbed over the vegetable patch to make a hidden patio where we entertained on warm summer evenings.
When looking for our third and current house, I specified ‘a small garden and someone else’s view.’ And that’s what we have. There’s a tiny lawn, four mature flowerbeds, packed with perennials, a rockery and a graveled patio. Our border is a stream, fringed with trees that give us seclusion in the summer, before shedding their leaves for the winter to reveal fields, hills and the sheer sides of a quarry beyond. It’s low maintenance and brings me great pleasure every time I gaze out of the window.
So why is it that every spring, I feel guilty about my failure and start thinking about seeds, wondering if I can fit a wigwam of beans in the corner, or whether I should try — just once more — to keep some sweet peas alive long enough to scent the house? Is it because we live in rural Devon where gardens abound? Is it because many of our friends have flourishing allotments? Or is it the Pat Ducie green-fingered genes, nudging me to have one more go?
Whatever the reason, I’m not going to give in to the guilt any more. I have a healthy, well-used herb bed and a vigorous rhubarb patch that was giving us fruit this year long before any of our friends had anything to harvest. I can support local businesses by buying hanging baskets of begonias and fuchsias each summer and paying someone to occasionally curb the excesses of the faster-growing shrubs. I can get fresh fruit and vegetables from local greengrocers, or at friends’ dinner tables. In the meantime, I’m going to continue making gardens bloom in my writing instead. I think my parents would be satisfied with that.
Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.
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