No one was as surprised as me when I decided to go to Plumpton College and train to be a gardener. I was 36, I had always worked in banks or offices and the closest I had been to the soil was when I used to throw myself around in mud under the pretence of being a goalkeeper. But to be a gardener was what I was going to do.
On reflection though, I suppose, at some stage I was always going to garden, either for myself or for other people, it was in my blood. I don’t mean my Great Grandfather mowed the lawns at Blenheim Palace or anything like that, but I think it comes from my Grandma.
Grandma lived in Southport, she worked in a bakery (perhaps I was predetermined to love cake too.) and made the most fabulous vanilla slices and parkin, but it’s the smells that are the most evocative, a roasting chicken with sage and onion stuffing cooking takes me back to her kitchen, as does the smell of the tea in her wall mounted leaf tea dispenser.
The smell of the yellow roses in her garden, which, in my memory were always in flower, no matter when we went to see her, lives on too. Even today a yellow rose is my favourite and I’m sure many of my customers have seen me stop to smell their roses. I came across a yellow rose, in Sussex, in January, in flower this week. It’s probably fitting that a yellow rose signifies friendship and joy.
But it’s the soil, the smell of the soil that I best remember, which sounds a bit odd written down I know. Judge me if you like, as I said to The Dancing Queen the other day “You do know I’m a bit odd don’t you”, she hasn’t responded yet, perhaps she’s waiting to break it to me that I’m the most normal person she knows. But, perhaps not.
Where was I, The sandy, peaty soil in Grandma’s garden was black and fertile and pungent and sometimes, just sometimes, I get a whiff of that scent down in Sussex’s chalk and clay soil which is clever to say the least. I daresay one or two customers have seen me sniff a handful of soil. I’m not sure what that signifies.
Which leads me on to a couple of weeks ago when I was in a lovely customer’s garden, it was cold, it had been wet and I was trying to light a fire. But, because it was cold and had been wet, my hands couldn’t determine if the kindling was dry, so I lightly brushed the kindling against my cheek to check on it’s dryness. It was then that two things happened, firstly I discovered that dried nettles still carry a sting and secondly my customer came out with a cup of tea. Jon claims he didn’t see her coming to the bonfire, as does Sprout and Mrs G, in her usual polite way asked if “I was quite alright” as she backed away, rapidly, laughing. I did get the fire going though.
Back to Grandma’s garden, she had old, gnarled apple trees, she had perfectly manicured lawns and she had a compost bay at the back of the garden which backed on to a builder’s yard with all the lovely smelly diesel lorries, in the days when we didn’t know it was wrong to like smelly diesel lorries.
I also remember that Grandma had the best garden, the tidiest garden, the best smelling garden and it wasn’t just the soil that made it so, it was the hours of hard work she put in and the skill she had. I never got to tell her that my love of gardening comes from her and my Mum and, even if I had, I’m not sure what she would have said. Grandma was from that stock where effusiveness wasn’t part of her make-up. Heaven knows what she would make of her Grandson writing about feelings.
She would probably think I was a little bit odd.