Last week I had the great pleasure of visiting a good number of dear old friends and relations in London, East Anglia and the Midlands. I brought some terrible weather down the A1 with me (apologies for that, folks), and as I walked through the windy streets of London, or shivered in the respective dark, cold, sodden gardens of my mother and grandmother, it felt almost as though I had never left Scotland.
My mother’s garden, in South Lincolnsire, rather suited the gloomy day. It’s an old townhouse garden, long, thin, terraced, and walled in by old stone and brick walls, and has a romantic air of neglect and decay that my mother finds extremely frustrating, but I think is most charming and autumnal. Public Enemies Numbers One and Two are, respectively, bindweed, and the honey fungus that has wiped out most of the trees. The stars are the roses and the neat rows of vegetables. My mother is never satisfied with the garden, but I think it is lovely, and full of childhood memories. When I was about 10 years old it was my cross-country course and showjumping arena, where I’d spend hours cantering over bamboo jumps on my imaginary steed, leaping down the terraces with a whinny and a snort.
My grandmother’s garden is, by contrast, a countryside cottage garden on a south-facing slope. The main garden is dominated by roses and lavender, asters and nasturtiums, all hemmed in by the warm Derbyshire stone. My grandmother’s gardener vanished a few months ago, and she has been making do with the help of my aunt and cousin whenever they can manage a visit, although she still does plenty herself despite being in her mid-90s and almost blind. She grows grapes in her greenhouse, pruning the vine carefully according to the instructions of the gardener at Chatsworth, whom she once cornered for precise instructions. She also grows tomatoes, and occasionally other treats such as cucumbers, in the greenhouse. The orchard was carefully laid out to provide a range of apples and pears throughout the season. It’s another garden full of memories from childhood: feeding the ponies over the wall, splashing in the paddling pool, lunches on the lawn, chasing tiny beagle puppies through the flower beds…
Two gardens, both alike in dignity, as Shakespeare (almost) said, and both very dear in my heart.