Gardening Magazine

My Gardening Influences

By Patientgardener @patientgardener
My sister and I (approx 1974)

My sister and I (approx 1974)

I have a theory that if you have too much of something in your formative years you tend to avoid it when you are an adult.  To explain my theory let me take you back to my childhood and vegetables.  We always had peas or broad beans with our dinner, sometimes fresh carrots and in summer lots and lots of runner beans.  My Mum would harvest loads of broad beans and runner beans from the local pick-you-own and freeze them so we were never really without beans.  We only had salad in the summer and never as an accompaniment to a hot dish, always with some ham and cheese.

Now as an adult I cannot eat runner beans, I only eat very young broad beans and I only eat peas if I am eating out and I have to be polite and clear my plate.  Instead  I have all sorts of other vegetables: salads, courgettes, cabbage, kale, leeks you name, just no beans or peas. But this isn’t just me being perverse, my mother is as bad.  She was a war baby and consequently will not eat greens at all – no cabbage, no spinach.  She says that when she thinks about her childhood growing up on the outskirts of London in the Blitz one of the smells she associates with that time is over boiled cabbage. It is only in the last couple of years that we have convinced her that stir fried cabbage is OK.

Today for some reason I had one of those moments driving home when I was sharply taken back to a childhood memory.  For some unknown reason I remember very vividly cutting hedges.  This is probably my earliest childhood memory relating to gardening.  The house we lived in was set back from a main road and the boundary was marked by a high and neat hedge.  The hedge was planted on top or either side of some sort of raised earth mound, so as a child you could climb in between the front and back of the hedge and walk along spying on people walking up the road.  I don’t remember what type of plant the hedge was but it was quite small leaved.  However, what I remember vividly about the hedge was cutting it with hand shears.  Now I’m sure my parents weren’t so mean as to make me trim the whole hedge but I do remember frequently spending considerable amounts of time trimming the hedge.  I suspect that I stood inside the hedge and did some of the top while my Dad did the two outer sides and tidied up.  My parents were very proud of the hedge; they would direct people to our house by saying, “We are by the 30 mile sign where the neat hedge is”.  No one else’s hedge was as neat.  In fact our whole garden was neat.  The lawn was immaculate, the shrubs domed nicely, all the perennials (and there weren’t that many from what I remember) had the obligatory weed free circle of earth round them and there were quite a few conifers.  I remember that this house and a subsequent house both had old orchards removed and vast tracks of lawn installed instead. Their gardening style is much the same now.

Now around this time in the summer I was allowed to go roaming for hours on end with a friend.  We would cross the road, wander through the housing estate, across a field and into the woods beyond.  Our goal was a derelict house hidden in the woods.  We weren’t that interested in the house, well we were probably too scared to be bold enough to go in but we were brave enough to explore the overgrown grounds and decaying greenhouse.  We would come home with all sorts of flowers in our hair.  We thought they were some special exotic bloom but I suspect they were very run of the mill flowers.  In my head they were Camellia flowers but that would be wrong for the time of year we went exploring so who knows maybe they were exotics!  I remember feeling a thrill being in a  garden which was being subsumed into the surrounding woodland and fascinated with how big the plants that had colonised the greenhouse were. My remembered emotions associated with those trips is not that dis-similar to the feeling I get when I visit a truly lovely garden now.

I wonder if applying my theory to my early horticultural experiences whether this would explain my intense dislike for neatness in the garden. I cannot engage with box hedging, it leaves me completely cold.  I visibly flinch when I see shrubs domed and I hate seeing plants with bare soil around them in the height of the season.  I  prefer the plentiful and slightly  wild look.  I don’t care that my lawn is full of weeds and shaggy around the edges, I try to cram in as many plants as possible and I like my shrubs and trees to grow as they would naturally.

Some may argue that it is just my perverse nature coming to the fore, after all my middle name is Mary so I can be quite contrary.  I’m reading a book at the moment all about politics in gardening, Radical Gardening, and am presently on a section about the 1960s countercultural movement and how this impacted on public garden spaces.  I feel the  arguments in the book are a little tenuous but I suspect that this is behind my wondering about my garden influences and earliest memories and how my gardening approach is so different to my parents.

I wonder what my sons’ gardening style will be when they are my age and whether they will be eating beans and peas!

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