Your Life Story in Your Garden: Plants From People and Places, Plants to Evoke Memories, Plants Which Tell a Story
Bright Memories of a Dear Friend
New Garden, New Growth
On 29th February 2016, I bought a house. We moved into it on 12th April 2017 as we'd sold the old one and had to move out, even though this one wasn’t quite ready. To cut to the chase, it needed work, boy did it need work! Civilisation has now returned, our temporary home, the caravan, is being used for storage and my garden is taking shape.
I must tell you that I am no gardener. I have no knowledge of Latin names for any floral or arboreal species. I neglected my previous, slabbed garden. Now I can’t wait to plan the borders, plant them out, sow seeds and tend grass in my new one.
’So what happened?’ I hear you ask.
This house happened; this wonderful bungalow I fell in love with as soon as I saw it, even in it’s dilapidated state, overgrown, dirty and in need of buckets of TLC.
Delving into the Past
Why did I fall in love with it? Because:
- I grew up in one almost identical,
- I love trees & greenery,
- I love peace and tranquility,
- I love privacy,
and this is the last dwelling in a dead-end, tucked neatly into a triangular corner plot with a ditch and a line of willows next door!
Bungalows: Where I Grew Up and Where I am Now
A Passion for Photography
Apart from writing, another passion of mine is photography. So naturally I’ve been snapping away in my garden, to record my horticultural progression. I took the following photo of plants lined up on the old bench ready for their rightful places in my plans. As soon as I looked at the downloaded print I thought, ‘Those plants have a story to tell.’
So I'll tell you about those first, then go back in time to a few favourite flowers and their place in my garden.
Bench Full of Stories
The small fir tree on the left was found in France. You can see the fresh pale green shoots indicating a healthy growth. I think it's a Spruce Fir, as in Christmas Trees, but please correct me if I'm wrong.
As we travel around France, my partner keeps an eye out for small shoots of trees, always where there are plenty and often on camp sites. We have several species. This one comes from our favourite camp site, in Brittany. We are now great friends with the owner and his wife; hopefully they will visit us some time next year.
I decided to plant this one by the front wall; on practical terms it will fill a gap in the hedge which provides a wind break, much needed when the south-westerly comes blasting off the sea! I'm not generally a great fan of firs however the contrast of pale and dark needles is decorative and I find myself drifting off to Christmases past. I'll have to keep an eye on it, in case it decides to dwarf the hedge or tries to look into the loft window!
This plant has fluffy golden yellow flowers like pom-poms, grows really quickly, always has some greenery and flowers from Spring until mid-Autumn. It's great for hiding eye-sores such as water-butts or drainpipes. This splash of sunshine lifts the spirits on a dull day and the flowers nod agreement all day long.
According to wikipedia Jew's Mallow 'is a common name which can refer to:
- Corchorus olitorius in the mallow family (Malvaceae), cultivated for its edible leaves and jute fiber
- Kerria japonica in the rose family (Rosaceae), cultivated as an ornamental'
Mine, therefore, must be the Japonica (from Japan). I suppose it does have a resemblance to the rose.
I didn't know its name and had difficulty finding it online. I sent a photo of it to an old friend who's good at these things, thinking 'if she can't tell me, no-one will'. She couldn't! However, she persevered with several ideas and came up with the answer. So not only is this plant pretty and practical, it also reminds me of my good friend, a lady who, as head of department, was instrumental in getting me the job I enjoyed for 14 years before retirement, teaching dyslexics in a mediaeval manor house in Somerset; lots of great memories working together, still a good friend, and her husband makes fantastic curries!
Forsythia is another plant with bright yellow flowers. It also grows quickly. Its thick foliage and strong branches make a great hedge; don't let it get out of hand as it can take over! It is part of the Olive family and is named after William Forsyth, a Scottish botanist and horticulturist (1737–1804) who was a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society.
Many moons ago, in a previous life, my garden was backed by such a hedge and gave us a good deal of privacy. I loved the colour - another splash of sunshine - and the memory of it brings back the Hampshire countryside, me taking part in car rallies around Sussex and Hampshire having lots of fun, driving or marshalling or merely spectating. They were good times.
Vibrant Yellow Flowers
More than 20 years ago, I spent some time in Wales. The love of my life, who lived in the beautiful countryside inland from Cardigan, had a holly tree perched on a bank near the lane. That small holly bush was taken to England and ended up in the last house before this present bungalow. As it was much better established by the time we moved, we decided to leave it.
However, several holly saplings had been garnered from sites in England and in France, so we now have several to plant here. One is already near the Forsythia, to be kept as a small bush and others will be transferred to pots and strategically placed to stop our visitors over-running the hardstanding in front of the bungalow and diving into the grass.
So these hollies have travelled well and remind me fondly of times in Wales, times which have rippled over the years and gently wash over us here.
The Holly, of course, is also part of Christmas and that rôle alone gives it a high status.
Green and Red Leaves on the young Holly
Flowers of my Youth
Primroses and Bluebells:
My parents and I used to go for walks across the South Downs in Sussex and into woods and open fields. There were dusky blue carpets of bluebells in the woods and a splash of the softest yellow on hillsides and banks. They lifted my heart.
We were allowed to pick them then, not realising that we would be contributing to their decline. It's illegal to do so now, quite rightly, and, as predicted, there are fewer to be seen. The bluebell is also threatened by the Spanish variety so it's doubly important to be aware. Our native species is associated with ancient woodland so is doubly precious.
My primroses come from my partner's field in Wales; they are the wild, indigenous variety so they have that delicate pale yellow which, like bluebells, gives a carpet of colour. They hug the ground and can transform a bank from green to yellow in a couple of days; magical!
When I was a little girl, every time we travelled, especially on holiday in a hired car (luxury!), for mile after mile the roadsides were covered with Marguerites, those tall, smiley-faced white daisies bobbing hello to us as we passed. I loved them. Sadly, these days many have disappeared, probably because of pollution or being grubbed up for wider roads. I had to have some in my garden so that I can see them every year without going anywhere!
Such pretty little blue, unassuming dots of flowers! Many regard them as weeds; I fell in love with the name years ago and they have always occupied each garden my Mum grew and tended. They seem to have come back into fashion, especially as a flower to leave as a tribute to a deceased friend or someone who is leaving to travel far away. I have planted several clumps.
The flower of remembrance, poppies grew through the mud of Flanders Fields, Normandy, in WW1. They were seen in fields all over our local farms and when we travelled, especially through Wiltshire. Despite being a reminder of sad times, they are such jaunty red flowers that you can't help but smile. Some have large petals, some smaller, some can be a pinky-mauve. I love them all but especially the large red armies of them stretching to many a horizon.
Hazy Carpet of Bluebells
Flowers evoke Memories
... and There's More!
Daffodils are a symbol of Spring. Their nodding heads, waxy petals and tall, slender stems, make me think of determination - they break through the frosty soil, sometimes through snow, but they have the ability to lie dormant until the sun returns. When I plant them, it's always in a large number together, so I have dense displays in every corner of the garden that can't fail to catch the eye. They are one of the symbols of Wales (along with the leek) and are worn by the Welsh on March 1st, St David' day. They are also in bloom around my birthday in early May, so I feel that they're celebrating with me - bright and sunny to make me smile.
These delicate pale blue, sometimes darker, flowers are shrouded in a lacy collar, hence the 'mist'. I've loved these prettiest of flowers since I saw them in our garden in our first bungalow. My mother loved them; she had an artist's eye for balancing colour and stature in the landscape.
Another of my mother's favourites, the flowers have a depth of blue you can lose yourself in. Seen in a cornfield, it's as though the earth has been brushed with a textured blue wash. It makes your heart leap; a bit like a field of poppies but more subtle.
It was coming up to Mothers' Day, I was about 15. Mum had been saying how much she liked the tall slender beauty of delphiniums. I was on a bicycle ride when I saw a seedling tray of them in the village garden shop. I bought the whole tray with my pocket money, balanced it over my basket and handlebars, and rode home. The smile of surprise and delight was the best thank you ever! I bought some seeds the other day, planted them near the back fence and I'm waiting with baited breath to see their miraculous emergence from the soil. Every time I look at them my Mum's smile will be there.
These stately plants are also known as Larkspur.
The magnolia pictured had pride of place in my garden two houses ago (another bungalow in fact!). The flowers are exotic, beautiful, but sadly disappear far too quickly in a strong wind. I have one planted at the front here, down in a dip to protect it from the wind off the sea, or so I thought; it's not happy but I'm hoping it will become acclimatised as it grows stronger.
Some have the most delicate pink flower, some a deep purple and often there are two shades to the petals. Every time I see them it lifts my heart and reminds me of a wonderful time which included my job teaching dyslexics. I chose the bungalow to be near to school and was able to cycle there most days.
I celebrated my 50th birthday there and my loyal friends danced round the May Pole in the back garden! Great memories!
Magnolias and May Poles
I'm not an ardent fan of roses but before you cry 'shame, shame!' I should say that I do love the English Country Garden type of rose which ages with grace and looks just as good as it fades.
I do have five different roses. One was already here and is that very English garden rose I love; the others are varied and are ones given to me by my partner or friends. Each reminds me of a specific person or persons, along with when and why it was given to me or to us. Roses do reflect love and therefore should have a place in anyone's garden.
The red rose here was brought a few weeks ago by great Welsh friends of ours travelling in their camper-van. With no spare room to put up anyone at the moment, we have plenty of room for them to park the camper and so they have a free camp site whenever they want. They are fans of our town too as there is some family history connected to a hotel and a house on the sea front. There is always lively conversation and frequent laughs in their company and they are also old friends of Pat (mentioned above and below) and her husband who have made use of our drive with their own camper-van. Her husband still does, often along with these friends.
Roses are Red.. Yellow.. Pink...
Lavender has been present in my family's garden ever since I can remember. Pale or dark, the flowers are a joy and the perfume is exquisite. Just pinch a head in your fingers and the aroma stays with you for a while - but watch for bees as lavender is a favourite for them and they're not always easy to see!
Also a practical plant, you can collect the dry seeds from the stem and make lavender bags, wonderful to keep clothes fresh or to hang in a bedroom or bathroom. That way you enjoy the benefits outdoors and in!
My mother loved them and so do I; I have several plants in pots and a couple in the ground. No garden of mine would be complete without them.
You’ve already seen the beautiful azalea above. Our friends Pat and Steve visited us regularly and had fortunately been to our new house. Sadly Pat, a kind, vivacious and humorous lady, died in February 2017. From diagnosis to her final days was so swift, it was difficult to believe when we were told she had gone, even though we knew it wouldn’t be long. It is still difficult to believe and any conversation regarding her and her husband brings us up short realising that she will never be with us again, at least not in body; always in spirit though.
Early in the year, when first deciding on plants for my garden, I asked Pat, our gardening guru, for ideas regarding something colourful for the Summer. Her knowledge of plants was wide-ranging, including all those Latin names! She recommended azaleas for an uplifting splash of zing. So azaleas it would be.
Her funeral was in March, in Wales near their home. On the way back to the house we popped to the shops to buy some wine and a few other things. What should be outside the main door but some plants, including a few fine-looking, budding azaleas. We chose a vibrant pink one. It lived in a pot until the end of May and is now planted in a position for all to see. Pat’s azalea takes pride of place; you can see it in the photo below.
Far from making us feel sad, the sight of these sizzling flowers brings a smile to our faces and a feeling that she’s visiting once more.
Dog, Frog and Hedgehog
Guardians Set in Stone
Garden ornaments are not on my 'must-have' list and I definitely do not like garden gnomes. However, I've acquired some pets of which I'm fond; a dog, a frog and a hedgehog.
The dog was found outside on the road of our bungalow where the magnolia was. He remained by our gate for a while but as no one claimed him, we gave him a good home. We decided someone going home from the pub had nicked him, thought better of it, and downloaded him en route.
The frog was left at our previous house which was near water so seemed appropriate. We have a ditch at the side so he'll be happy. I think he's really a toad but that doesn't rhyme with dog and hedgehog, so he stays as Mr Frog, though I suppose he could be Mr Toad of Toad Hall (in case you don't know he's the comic turn in 'The Wind in the Willows' by Kenneth Grahame).
The hedgehog was already here, along with lots of plastic friends which have been found new homes! He has a family of several miniatures too so we're happy for them to stay.
So they too have a story. They live on the wall, lords of all they survey!
Perennial Work in Progress
This is still a work in progress. It will never be finished. Plants will grow, be rearranged to suit, be added to. My garden will reflect my life. The best thing about it is that I shall grow with it and in that growing I shall have my memories at a glance, happy times and sad, yes, but all will make me smile as I see all those people I’ve loved along the way.
Coming Together, Back and Front
So this labour of love ends up being a storytelling, an alternative to writing, a visual record of particular times, events and people in my life. It's an instant multiple memo which makes me glad; a reminder of family, friends, events and places.
There is much more yet for my garden to tell - I wonder who will work out the significance in years to come.
en.wikipedia.org (ref. Forsythia)
Does your garden tell a story?
Do you have a favourite plant? (Please say why in the comments.)
© 2017 Ann Carr