Most of my plants tell the story of triumph over the odds – they have survived my careful neglect and occasional over-zealous care. Surely that’s story enough? But what about the people behind the plants? I have a moth orchid that a great friend of mine gave to me as a house warming. Every time I see it (and remember to water it) I am reminded of her optimism that I could look after such a seemingly delicate flower.
I have a slightly less delicate crown of thorns that sits on my window sill, quietly doing its thing. It doesn’t look like much to most people with its pale grey wrinkled stem and big thorns, its small green leaves and even tinier red flowers. It can be largely ignored and forgotten about. The spiders build webs every so often through it until I remember to water it. Yet it too continues to thrive. It’s not the showiest of plants but I won’t part with it. This plant speaks of much to me; of family and far off places. I adopted it from my mother who got it from my aunt who brought it to us here in Ireland. She had propagated it on the other side of the Atlantic from cuttings she took when visiting us many years ago on a tiny far flung island. She took it from a much bigger plant that sprawled outside our house. En-masse it is spectacular and almost indestructible. It almost thrives on neglect – a great introduction to house plants here really. I can picture it baking in the sun and almost feel the heat some days. Shouldn’t all plants tell a story?
This same aunt was visiting recently. The Little Paddler and I whisked her off to a garden centre naturally. We laughed at how ridiculous the notion was, that those we know and love, would let us off unsupervised to a garden centre! We talked and walked and smelled the roses and admired the many, many plants. And then we sat down for coffee. Food is also very important to her – we have so much in common really. Over coffee (and cake) we spoke about a lot. We spoke about my grandparents and their garden and what their favourite plants were. We spoke about my dad and all of his experiments in gardening and about how when I was small I would ‘help’ him in the garden like Little Paddler ‘helps’ me now. We spoke about how he’d love to see my little patch developing and bearing fruit. He would of course think the flowers were a bit of a waste and would much prefer to cover the place in potatoes and onions and rhubarb. But at the back of it all, he would just like to see me out in the garden regardless of what I was planting. Mr. Fairweather reminds me that he does see it and no doubt loves it.
For me, the garden tells the tale of where I have come from and where I dream of going, who I have met and how they have influenced me. I was three months pregnant with my Little Paddler when my dad passed away. I was (and still am) heartbroken. I used to go out to the tunnel and get down on my hands and knees and pull weeds through the tears and tell my bump that this is what granddad would have loved. Now I wrap her up on my back or set her down in a patch of ground free of thistles and nettles and tell her this is what granddad would have loved. I hope that she will in time remember gardening with me and do the same for her little ones.
I am absolutely blessed that my family love their plants and gardens. I think while I love to try new plants simply because I can, I also want to try others because of where or who they came from. My aunt tells me that my granddad liked pansies and wallflowers and stock. I am not a fan of pansies and much prefer their smaller cousins, violas so that’s what I’ll include in my garden with the wallflowers and stock (night scented especially). She says that for granny, her garden was the place where she had joy and peace, especially in the evening when all the farm jobs were done – I can relate to that. My garden is my therapy. Apparently, she used to love her flowers and especially her dahlias, snapdragons, lupins and pink phlox. I tried snapdragons this year for the first time and have fallen in love with their heady scent. They are a keeper in my garden. I am going to give dahlias a go. I have always loved the look of them but thought them a bit beyond me. But experimenting with the garden and its plants is in my blood, right? Lupins are a stalwart here already but I have never tried phlox. She tells me that she brought slips up from the home place up to her sister’s house and those plants thrived and are still there today. I shall be paying a visit to that garden soon!
I keep persevering with my rhubarb crowns, even though I don’t really like rhubarb. I persevere because my dad loved it. When I see the stalks, I remember how he used to simply leave a handful of sticks on the window sill for my mom to find. It was his unique way of asking for a tart or crumble to be made. I plant aubergines because I love them but also because he was always trying them. And I am married to an Irish man so we shall always plant spuds. My great spud experiment failed this year but I take heart. My dad was always planting spuds, some years with more success than others. I shall persevere. The raspberry jam I made this year is from plants that my uncle donated. And I have a batch of hollyhock seeds that my sister-in-law harvested from her own plants and donated to my garden plans. I love going to visit family and friends and having a look around the garden. Personalities shine through. Ideas are shared. Plans mooted. And plants from which I can take slips identified! Hopefully they catch and then it’s another story teller in my garden.