I often think of her garden this time of year. Though full to the gills with all manner of flowers it was laid out with great precision and taste. It’s probably like a jungle now for she passed on fourteen years ago.
There have been tenants, good and bad, but none had much interest in gardens; they needed a house for a couple of years and that was that. I’ve often been tempted to visit but never felt quite up to grappling with the memories.
She was partial to many types of flowers and yet the sweet pea is what always comes to mind. It must be running riot now, weaving its lovely way around roses, lilies, mallow, clematis, fuchsia, and honeysuckle – which she called woodbine.
She wasn’t always a gardener. People who grew up on farms rarely are but when she finally took an interest, she jumped in hook, line and sinker. It even surprised my father; he was working on the oil rigs up off Aberdeen back then and when home watched her first efforts with amusement. But he was a perfectionist, no stranger to spade or shovel, and eventually pitched in.
Her sitting room chair faced a sunroom, so she had a good view of her creation. She bought books on horticulture; these she studied until she knew all the flowers’ names, their preferences for shade or sunlight, and the plants in whose company they might prosper.
She would often look up from the page she was perusing and stare out, no doubt visualizing the perfect position for each of her favorites. My father paid little attention to her deliberations – he was a television man and would chuckle away at some comedy show or other. They were very unlike and yet delighted in each other’s company – though, in the Irish fashion, they rarely made much show of affection.
My father never complained about all the digging and transplanting she put him through, for she was never quite satisfied with her groupings. She once told me that she had made some big errors early on and instead of starting again from scratch, she chose to fix things as she went along. She regretted this decision and said that I should take it as a lesson in life, for she considered some of my choices rash and impulsive and worried about me.
Like many gardeners she liked to take her time about a decision weighing the pros and cons – this must have driven my father crazy for sailors are forced to make quick choices and live with the consequences. And yet he would lean on his shovel and stare off into the distance as she pondered some setting or design. Was he thinking about his life away from meandering Wexford or merely counting down the hours to his first evening beer?
I’ll never know now. I suppose he was already suffering from the Parkinson’s that would eventually nail him. They took it for granted that he’d be the first one to go. It didn’t turn out that way. He survived her by three years. For someone seemingly so independent and well used to his own company, her loss knocked the stuffing out of him. He had no stomach for the garden anymore but he did employ a man who tended to it.
Both my parents passed in the summer months so when I returned her garden was at its glowing best. The weather was balmy on each occasion and I spent much time rambling the little paths she had created. My father had laid these walks with old wooden railway spars and in the warm sun the tar sizzled and the smell curried the sweetness of her bee loud domain.
I was never one for cameras but I took a lot of mental pictures on those depleted afternoons for I knew I wouldn’t be coming back.
It’s odd though, whenever I attempt to summon up memories all I seem to see is the lovely sweet pea. I bet it’s everywhere now climbing and twining its way around that sweet-smelling jungle. Yeah, I often think of her garden this time of year.