Garden Memories Circa 1960, Birmingham, England
Written by Frances L. Photography by Frances L.
I’m crouched and hunched with my trowel, digging a little hole for one of my wood anemones. I’m tiny like a fairy and I’m pale next to this dark damp soil. Daddy and I dug up them from their tucked-away spot in the undergrowth at The Lickeys and now I’m putting them in my garden, which is in the back corner, by the fence between the Parks’ house and us. It’s under the big lime tree, which has sticky bits and pinkish galls on its leaves, and next to my guinea pig shed and run.
It’s shady under this tree so I think the wood anemones will like it here. Sniff sniff — I can smell the damp. The end of the Parks’ garden is even darker than ours because the big lime tree is planted in their garden and just overhangs ours. But their garden isn’t nearly as interesting as our garden. Sometimes their Alsatian noses up by the fence and growls. I’ve looked through the crack and he’s gray like a wolf with yellow and white eyes, and what a big mouth he has!
These wood anemones have petals like moonshine. I can almost see through them. I’m going to plant love-in-the-mist seeds in my garden, too. The packet shows they have a floaty-cloud of leaves, and pale blue flowers that look all shimmery.
I can’t wait!
Perhaps my garden will glow with misty moonshine — I could creep down here at night to see. Perhaps mice will sit under my wood anemones washing their faces with tiny, pink paws. Perhaps Mr. Fox will slink and snout around with beady eyes, licking his lips. Thank goodness he can’t get my guinea pigs. He’s like a wolf, too, only he’s got ginger fur, and he’s littler.
I hope slugs don’t gobble my plants. Slugs are very peculiar with little horns that pop back in when you touch them – but then they have eyes on the ends and I certainly wouldn’t want someone touching my eyes! They smell with their smaller horns. Daddy told me. And he told me a slug is both a boy and a girl at the same time. Fancy that! Now I’m looking for slugs but they’re hiding because it’s daytime. They hide under leaves and inside cracks and holes. There’s plenty of those here. In autumn, Daddy likes to burn the dead leaves on his bonfire. He really should change his clothes before lighting a fire. That’s what Mummy says and I agree!
Perhaps toadstools will grow in my garden. I wonder if I could plant them? But I didn’t see toadstool seeds at the shop on the High Street. We saw some bright orange ones with white spots at The Lickeys, and looked them up. They’re called fly agaric. That’s a very funny name. Fly agarics are extremely poisonous so never ever ever eat them. Not that I would because they don’t look like they’d be good to eat, for people anyway, just good to look at. And good for fairies to sit on.
I wonder if I could dig up some bluebells from the Lickeys and plant them here? The Bluebell Woods and The Lickeys are the same. Well, the Lickeys go on further and turn into hills because their real name is The Lickey Hills, but bluebells stretch a long way, like a deep blue sky but on the ground. Or a sea under the trees and the sprouting-gleamy-green of trees shines down and the blue shines up so everything is dappled like magic waves. Everything smells extra-bluebelly too. If I ever go to Fairyland, I hope it smells like that.
This bit of the garden has lots of secret places. Places I know about, and Pat Matchett does too, but other people don’t. Well, they know about the currant bushes and raspberries, but they don’t know that in the middle of the bushes is a magic house! It’s invisible to anyone else. And when I’m inside I’m invisible, too. I tried it out once when Mummy was looking for me; I stayed curled up in my house and she walked all the way around, calling my name, and never even saw me! I had to cover up my mouth so laughs didn’t escape.
Raspberries are here, too, which is good, because otherwise I might starve. I tried eating the red and black currants but they soured up my mouth so I spat them out. Mummy makes the red currants into bright red jelly and we have it with roast lamb on Sundays, and mint sauce, although I don’t like any of these things. I like alive lambs in the fields. Not dead lambs with their insides showing, hanging up in Gordon the butcher’s window. I never go in his shop. Mummy says it makes him sad but dead lambs make me sad. The raspberries are yummy. Although I have to check carefully before eating them because they might have maggots inside. Eeewww! I don’t want to eat white, wiggly maggots! Daddy says they’re larvae and they’ll grow into beetles. But, Eeewww! What if they grow into beetles in my tummy?
Pat Matchett and I have another secret place. To get there, we have to climb over the low spot of the fence at the bottom of the garden, where the top is a bit broken, and into The Wild Bit, which is full of very tall willowherbs with pinky-purple flowers and scratchy grass and stinging nettles. There are dock leaves too, in case we get stung. You rub them on the nettle bumps until the leaf juice squeezes out. We can certainly imagine we are fairies in The Wild Bit because the flowers and grasses are so high.
Near my bit of broken fence, Daddy planted a baby horse chestnut tree. In the autumn it grows prickly green cases with very beautiful conkers. They’re so shiny and smooth I can see myself in them, but they’re so hard they conk you on the noggin when they drop. Ha-ha! The boys at school, and some girls but not me, play conkers with them and they make them extra extra hard in vinegar and hang them on strings and bash each other’s conkers until they break into teeny bits.
They’re glossy brown like a horse. Perhaps that’s why the tree is called horse chestnut. Otherwise it’s a silly name. I’m going to plant one in my garden.
There are gooseberry bushes next to the other fence. And rhubarb with fat red stalks and very big leaves. I don’t like Mummy’s rhubarb crumble, which is sour, but once Pat Matchett and I picked the leaves and used them as umbrellas in our secret house. I don’t like eating gooseberries either. But they do make me laugh when I touch them. They tickle, and you have to agree they are very funny to look at! And Grandpa told me a joke: “What’s green and hairy and goes up and down?” Answer: A gooseberry in a lift! Now, why on earth would a gooseberry be going up and down in a lift? I suppose someone dropped it out of a shopping bag. So, it’s a very silly joke but it made me laugh. I even told it to Pat Matchett.
I wonder if I’ll always remember it?
Daddy’s bonfire pile is near my garden. I can see it when I swivel my head while I’m digging. Mummy gets cross because he’s so busy poking the fire, and whistling to himself, and he doesn’t hear when she calls him for tea. It’s a good job Daddy likes rhubarb and gooseberries.
Speaking of tea, my tummy is making growly noises. This has been a good day’s work so I’ll pat soil around my wood anemone and put my trowel away in the shed – it’s very easy to lose your trowel you know….
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
English English American
Alsatian German Shepherd
Bluebells – English – Spanish, Virginia, etc. No perfume!
Cross (as in gets cross) Annoyed, irritated
Ginger (as in fur or hair) Red (as in fur or hair)
Gooseberry –Ribes sp. Gooseberry, but not well-known
High Street Main Street
Horse Chestnut –Aesculus hippocastanum Buckeye Tree Aesculus sp.
Lime Tree – Tilia sp. Linden tree, Basswood tree
Tea Supper, dinner
Wood anemone – Anemone nemorosa Windflower
Yard Paved area
Willowherb – Epilobium angustifolium Fireweed