A garden of one’s own

I love my parents’ garden. Until recently, it was always ‘our garden’: the garden I first met aged two, and the one I still pine for when things get tough. There’s nothing like going Home (with a capital H – where the roots are) and sitting in the lush green space my mum and dad have tended to over the decades.

It’s large – and now, finally, in my adulthood, I appreciate what a luxury that is. It’s so large that there are three distinct ‘sections’ to it, divided by a concrete path and beautifully higgledy flowering borders.

Directly in front of the house, just beyond the patio and leading up to the homemade pond, is the social space, where the garden furniture sits ready for morning toast, tea, and the occasional gathering of the clans. Across the path is where we once arranged paddling pools, slides, and even homemade olympic obstacle routes made of bamboo sticks and odds and ends from the shed. Beyond that lies the place where things grow. The cutting beds, the potato patch, the ramshackle shed; where we once kept chickens, and still sometimes light up the skies with bonfires you can’t help but inch closer to on their designated day of the year.

I love spending time in that garden when I visit, and the weather allows. I did not, on the other hand, enjoy spending much time in the garden in my shared house, where I lived for the first four or five years of my life as a so-called ‘young professional’. It was lovely…but it was not my space. The landlord – who was also our housemate – had done a wonderful job of taking care of it, and it was a haven in a mid-city terraced row: sea-green fences, a blossom tree, a patio for BBQs and the like. Nevertheless, it was not my space. I did not rest there much, and on the occasions I did sit outside for meals or to socialise in the sun, I felt exposed and self conscious, like I was claiming territory that wasn’t mine.

After that, there was no garden, just a pair of patio doors which looked out onto a parking space that also wasn’t mine. One life-event later, and the view looked over our downstairs neighbour’s expanse of paving slabs. Once, there was a shed fire, and the engines were called, but aside from that it remained unused and uneventful. At the peak of the first Covid lockdown, when outdoor space was a premium, we radiated with envy at its neglect.

Now, I sit in a small corner of our own small garden, at a small table. It’s only temporary, another rented home, but this time I feel like I have space to breathe. There are weeds, and there are brambles – but we have started to cut away at them and have even bought bulbs and seeds which we sow and hope for shoots.

There are, as our neighbour likes to remind us, rats, somewhere. There are two pots, one with pansies and one with a resilient geranium, both gifted by my parents, delighted that we now have autonomy over our own outdoor space. There is a rickety door, a smeary conservatory, and a shed we contractually Must Not Enter.

I have hopes of growing things. I have visions of peaceful Sunday afternoons spent dabbing holes in the soil with my index finger and watching as green tendrils or little leaves peep through. We will keep as many things as possible portable, so we can take this space with us when we find something more permanent. 

I’m still getting used to sitting outside, though. The walls are low here, and one is even crumbling away. Our neighbours seem intent on chopping down the trees and bushes that offer a little privacy. I know that, if they wanted to, they could watch me reading, or typing, or wandering aimlessly around with my secateurs, snipping at things that look slightly dead, in my work-from-home comfies.

I still feel like I’m intruding, even when I’m not.

And so, there’s the matter of claiming my place.

They tell you that outside space and gardening works magic on your mind. With my track record for murdering multiple houseplants, I expected to be the exception; but each time I spend mere minutes pottering – snipping, sweeping, deadheading – I can tell that finally embracing garden life will do wonderful things. It’s another outlet for creating something, for gaining some space, and for reminding yourself that you are meant to do more than simply go through the motions every day. You are meant to put your roots down somewhere, however impermanent, and feel soil, smell earth, press petals between your fingers. You are meant to take a moment to care for something other than yourself; and you are meant to sit and feel the weather around you.

I am never going to be a keen gardener. I am not averse to getting dirt under my nails, or waiting patiently for things to bloom; but there are a thousand other things I would rather be doing than sculpting the perfect border.

And yet, taking some time to grow a couple of things of my own; learning to sit and take up space, and not worry about intruding, or being intruded upon; putting my faith in a couple of pots full of bargain compost and half-price seeds; rooting myself, however temporarily, and surrounding myself with green; learning some basics. That is what I am keen on.

So, I’m getting used to doing exactly that, and enjoying the process.

Maybe I can do it, one day, in a space we own, together.

In a space I can take up. One I can fully relax in. That feels like I belong.

Like the one my parents made for me to come back to for years, and years, and years.


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