OK UK?: A Great English Gardener...
My dear mother is as honest as the day is long. The idea of her doing something against the rules, let alone, against the law, is not credible. It is completely unbelievable. Just not going to happen.
OK, so there was that one time she was really angry and drove way over the speed limit, but, like many of her generation, doing the right thing is just what one does.
Except, it seems, when it comes to gardens...
For as long as I can remember my mother's world has been punctuated by the seasons in her garden. Forty years of fighting Essex clay, and consequently beating it into submission, has yielded a garden that is her pride and joy. In a space no larger than an acre, she has nurtured mature oaks into park-like vistas and an herbaceous border that is an ever-changing riot of color from early spring into the dying days of autumn.
Drought, not a problem you would immediately connect with rural England, is countered by stored rain and bath water, and hundreds of trips with the watering can. Frost, the arch-enemy, met by the careful use of a greenhouse, movable pots, and mulch.
Hard work and passion combine to make sure nothing prevents the garden from blooming into a showcase, including being eighty and having a trick hip.
But there is a dark side...
My mother loves to visit stately homes, or more accurately the gardens of stately homes.
So? you ask.
Well, she visits with a little bag of tricks nestled deep inside her handbag. It all looks fairly innocent to the untrained eye, but the Ziploc bags, damp paper towels and the devilishly sharp little scissors, are there for a seriously nefarious purpose.
The taking of cuttings...
Her garden is full of plants that started their life somewhere else. If pressed, my mother can identify not only the genus and order of her plants, but the famous garden they came from.
That one there, Sandringham, this one from Lord So and So's place, this one from the Chelsea flower show...
No upper-class tree, bush, or perennial, is safe. You can imagine my surprise as a young boy, when my mother, the epitome of correctness, would surreptitiously step into the bushes with her scissors at the ready, returning, a little flushed, with her prize; a small twig or leaf, cut at a precise angle. I would be cashiered into criminal service as the handbag holder, as ever so delicately; the prize would be wrapped in the damp paper and zipped closed in the bag with a good helping of air.
The National Trust, for one, had no idea how much their trust was being abused.
Of course being a boy, and thus a natural pain in the rear, I pointed out to my mother that this was a crime. She would, rather awkwardly, justify it as a victimless crime. The original plant was unharmed by the correctly taken cutting, and in any case, "no one would notice".
The mixed message was something I struggled with after I got busted for "borrowing" some sweets from the local tuck-shop. Seriously, I don't think anyone noticed. Still, I got a good smack and had to go back to the shop and apologize and pay the man with my meager pocket money...
Turns out that my mother is not alone. With England being heavily populated by ladies of a certain age, and their number one hobby being gardening, they descend on the more famous gardens like a plague of grey-haired locusts. The "pros" like my mother do little damage, and it is considered a point of pride for the staff to have produced a copy-worthy specimen, but of late, some idiot amateurs have entered the fray. Stupid and unprepared, they rip at the plants with their bare hands and walk out with a stupid grin, giant clumps of soil, and entire branches.
On days where gardens are open to the public, the dark uniforms of security guards have been seen, and straying off the path is now met with a loud “Oi you there”, striking fear into the intrepid plant hunters.
Now plant theft is a very real problem, and one such incident explains my mother’s one lapse with the speeding thing.
Many years ago, my mother had planted some small azalea bushes in the front garden of her house, bordering the pavement. After several years they had become magnificent specimens, deep green leaves and an absolute riot of red and pink blossoms.
And apparently very coveted…
One night, hearing a strange noise and men’s voices, my mother woke up, sensing that her plants were in danger. Dressed only in her nightgown, she rushed out into the darkness, to find a couple of men digging up her prized azaleas. The men, knowing they were rumbled, left their spades and one as yet unstolen bush, got into their little truck and drove off in a squeal of protesting tires. Without a backward glance, mother went back to the house, grabbed her car keys and drove off in hot pursuit of the plant thieves, her little mini driving like it never had before.
What was going though her mind, only she knew, but with no concern for her own safety, she raced until she saw the lights of a car driving at great speed. Driving at break-neck speed herself, she followed the taillights of the criminals. When the lights sped up, so did she, when they skittered off down a side road, she was right there behind them. There was no escaping the wronged plant owner, though what she planned to do when she confronted by two thieves was unclear.
Evasion was obviously futile, so the car eventually pulled to the side of the road and stopped. Whereupon a very angry/frightened man got out. Not a plant thief, it turns out, but a scoundrel out with someone else's wife. He thought my mother was the avenging husband, chasing him down to his deserved doom. His lady friend was a wreck. His evening was wrecked. My mother lost her prize azaleas. However, she had a terrific story to tell at the next flower show committee meeting...
And I knew that if I were ever kidnapped, my mom would break the speed limit to rescue me...
Dear Hub Reader
If you enjoy this hub, please check out my book,
Homo Domesticus; A Life Interrupted By Housework,
A collection of my best writings woven into a narrative on a very strange year in my life.
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