The parent … as a gardener ?

Tuesday 26 July 2022

Gracious me gardeners, I need your help!

About 6 weeks ago, a pupil bought me this beautiful rose, accompanied by an utterly delightful card.

It’s called Lovely Lady,” she beamed, “because you are a lovely lady!”

Well, look what has happened to the poor thing since I brought it home and planted it in the garden!

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Help! What to do? I’ve watered. I’ve fed. I’ve sprayed. But the once-lovely lady continues to droop. Every morning and every night, I have to face that desperate, bowed stem and … I feel dreadful.

Is the rose simply a reflection of me?‘ I ponder in a mad moment, ‘devoid of all energy and drive and just dragging myself towards the end of term?’

Or.. am I just a hopeless gardener?

Probably the latter, which would not be so bad, but for the fact that, in a similar vein to my pupil, several writers find strong parallels between gardening and parenting.

Children’s author, Katherine Halligan, in her post Why Parenting Why is a Lot Like Gardening, describes her transition into life with a family as follows,

As I gave up all notion of control and surrendered to the (happy!) chaos, I discovered I had probably been wrong all along. Nature has its own agenda, just like children do. And children, like plants, tend to thrive in spite of everything I do wrong.

Much, as ‘Lovely Lady’ is clearly not in the thriving category at the moment, I do enjoy the rest of Katherine’s article. The notion of learning on the job and just ‘jumping in at the deep end’ make pretty reassuring reading for any parent (or gardener.)

Mostly I simply muddle along, going on instinct, hoping that weather and circumstance will favour my wild guesses …”

And it is a version of the idea of working with, rather than trying to control the complexities of life, that highlights the parent’s role as a gardener for child psychologist Alison Gopnik in, The Gardener and the Carpenter. Which kind of parent are you? she challenges us to consider, gardener or carpenter?

The “carpenter” thinks that his or her child can be moulded. “The idea is that if you just do the right things, get the right skills, read the right books, you’re going to be able to shape your child ….”

‘The “gardener,” on the other hand, is less concerned about controlling who the child will become and instead provides a protected space to explore…”

Which one are you? Which one am I?

I decide that I am probably a mix of both and my kids agree. I quite like the idea of the gardener and the carpenter but find them more useful for describing behaviours than people. Hence in some situations, I approach things as a ‘moulder’ and in others, as a supportive of the ‘explorer’. Hey it is an analogy after all. At least I hope so, because if not, given my lack of skill in either domain, things don’t look too rosy for my offspring!

Interesting as the reading is, parenting is not my problem on this occasion… gardening is. And none of this solves the dilemma of wilting ‘Lovely Lady’. As far as I can see, my only options now are, pruning, supporting with bamboo and … a miracle?

Meanwhile, all suggestions welcome!

There’s a hot tub in my garden…

Saturday 23 April 20222

Golly gosh; can my two girls shop!

As the Easter holidays draw to a close, I hardly recognise my own home! Cheered on, at times propelled on, by my daughterly duo of retail fanatics, not only does my conservatory proudly boast a new furniture but the weathered and worn plastic garden chairs have also been binned in favour of ‘zero-gravity‘ recliners. Have I taken leave of my senses? Well I just might have done exactly that, because the shopping frenzy all began….with a hot tub!!

Oh the hot tub! A fanciful notion floated several weeks ago, after some bargain deals bounced into the inbox. The only part the teens really play in this transaction, as my ‘older generation‘ head wavers and wobbles over such a luxurious item, is to confidently waive aside my worries and doubts and merrily shove me across the financial finishing line… and into the blissful outdoor spa!

However, scarcely has the froth subsided on our first dip in the bubbles, when purchase number 2 is in the boot of the car. I innocently agree to potter into town with my Eldest, to return a package to Next and pop into Boots for a new moisturiser when, lo and behold, my girl steers me into a store promising ‘unbeatable bargains‘ on garden furniture and I find myself trundling to the till with four new ‘zero-gravity‘ recliners with accompanying drinks table!

Mum, you have been looking for new outdoor furniture for years!”,

she smiles reassuringly, as I appear a little flustered. This is utterly true, but I had anticipated at least another half decade of looking and wondering and weighing-up before I actually made any daring dash to the cash-till. In addition, I am not at all sure what ‘zero’gravity‘ chairs even are! But, as we try them all out upon our return home, they are very comfortable. And, as my daughter points out, together with the hot tub really ‘freshen up the garden experience!

I know what you’re thinking, by now I had surely learned my lesson! But no, as Prom-dress daughter arrives home to swell the youthful and carefree ranks of the household, I am persuaded to head out to Ikea to replace a few broken glasses, replenish my dwindling supply of cereal bowls and try out the new plant balls’. Five minutes! We are there for only five minutes, before we are are snuggling on a new sofa and admiring the display of accompanying rug and table!

This is so comfy! Gorgeous!

You’ve been looking for ages, Mum”

“Don’t you just love it!”

“The poor conservatory has been completely bare for 18 months now!”

They do actually allow me to stop and consider this one, over (delicious) plant balls, mash and gravy. Possibly, I am distracted by the delights of my redcurrant jelly but equally the fact that they are correct and that my lovely, sunny, garden room has been an empty shell for a year and half does also register and I decide to go for it, rug, coffee table and all!

At the warehouse, things are slightly complicated as we discover that, despite endless permutations of collapsed seats and car-boot boxes and much hilarity as the three of us career around the carpark with the weighty beast, the sofa is never going to be squashed into my car. In now rueful resignation, I wave my credit card at the cashier and fork out for home delivery!

So here I am. But here’s the thing; the purchases have all be fantastic. We live in the conservatory now and wonder what we ever did before. The new garden equipment has been super-fun, long overdue and made the Easter holidays seem pretty idyllic. I’d go as far as to say that it has made me fall in love with my own home again.

Thus, as the clash of youthful exuberance and a dash of ‘carpe diem’ with my single-mum (crippling) caution has a clear victor on this occasion, I’ll admit that I am glad to have been defeated. Left to my own devices I would doubtless have a few more £100s in the bank, awaiting the proverbial ‘rainy day’, but the conservatory would still be an empty room and the tired old plastic chairs would have tempted no-one to sit in the garden this holiday. Why not ‘seize the day’ and enjoy a few sunny days right now. A trip to IKEA isn’t ever going to break the bank so when those rainy days do arrive, I’ll still be ready!

Nonetheless, the bank manager and I do heave a little sigh of relief as my two shopaholic students set off back to uni-land ….

Goodbye old shed …

Saturday 16 April 2022

I am blogging today, glass in hand, from a deckchair in the sunniest corner of my garden. It is a lovely spot but it has come at an emotional price… we have had to dismantle the shed …

I mean the battered old beast needed to go! The roof felt blew away a couple of years ago, the timbers has sagged so that the roof frame itself was hanging on by … divine grace and the interior was a jumble of cobwebs, damp rugs and other decaying detritus that no-one had dared to investigate for half a decade. Nonetheless as it taken apart, beam by beam, it feels a little sad and, as the children’s ‘Secret Club rules’ re-emerges on an inner wall my heartstrings are well and truly tugged …

The Shed; my very first purchase as we relocated from our ‘down south’ life back to the Northwest. Our rented property had a huge garden and whether out of guilt, panic or sheer hysteria, I decided to seal our move with an idyllic garden house for the trio of toddlers I had dragged over 200 miles to ‘start afresh’.

At the local garden centre, this wistful honeysuckle of a notion quickly descended into the typical tense scene most shopping trips with under 7s become. I located the shed that fitted my budget, a charming little house with windows and a latch door…my offspring had other ideas. As I reeled around wondering where on earth any of them were, they kept appearing inside the more deluxe end of the garden building market

“We need to get this one mummy, it has turrets and a slide… wheee!”

This one has two floors and lots of rooms … look look mum I’m upstairs…ooh we could sleep in it

I grabbed and yanked them back into line to show them ‘our little house’. Well, to say they were unimpressed is a complete understatement. Tears, shouting, accusations and, from Small Boy, a full on tantrum, lying on the ground screaming with fury and refusing to move until I relented and bought the ‘one with the slide‘!

I vaguely recall bundling them all back into the car, arranging delivery of my chosen shed and driving home …for a whisky!!

Fortunately parents, as we all know the small people have very short memories and when my ‘reasonably priced’ garden shed arrived, the household rejoiced and they spent hours in there, their own little house, the perfect setting for getting lost in imagination and make believe. Indeed as we resume the final farewell to the trusty shed timbers, we do uncover and even hang onto several treasures. Plus I finally solve the mystery of where my washing line pegs disappeared to all those years ago!!

But the truth be told, it is several years since any adventures have taken place in the old shed. As toddlers grew into teens, no-one took their tea out to the little garden house anymore, nor spent hours in there hatching plans and scrawling important ‘rules’ on the walls. No, it was relegated to a dumping ground for odd bits of garden equipment and a delivery drop-off for parcels. So, whilst always in my heart as the venue of some happy times and laugh-out -loud memories, it is time to move on.

So I sip from my glass and raise a toast to new ‘good times’ in what is, after all, a beautifully sunny spot in the garden…

Summer Holiday 2020

Saturday 29 August 2020

This week STA Travel go out of business. I raise a nostalgic cup of coffee to them, recalling the thrilling day, long ago in 1989, when I bought my ‘round the world ticket‘ from their Euston Road store. With a smile, I recall having to write the cheque out three times! It was the largest purchase I’d even made and, faced with such a vast array of digits, I found it a challenge to get the decimal point into the correct place. Furthermore, this 2020 week rolls onto Saturday, which heralds the start of the Tour de France in the gloriously vibrant city of Nice. This is the scene of a more recent grown-up holiday, and with happy memories of travels and foreign lands at every turn, I’m struggling a little to reflect favourably on a Summer spend mostly in my own back garden…

Yes what a strange 6 weeks for this self-confessed travel lover! I did learn, if not to like, at least to tolerate gardening itself. I planted flowers and tidied up paths. I staggered around with huge sacks of bark and ferried broken old fences and bag, upon bag of rubble to the tip. Without question however, the outdoor highlight was the inspired rebirth of Small Boy’s football goal … as a net for games of tennis … with our beach bat set! Now that actually was a lot of fun. To be fair, when you live with a child as inventive as Small Boy, fun can be found in the most unexpected scenarios…

Yes, here he is in 2016. About a year after we bought the footie net, we found our boy, finally despairing of finding any players in the ‘house of girls’, out in the garden having a kick about with many of the finest professionals of the day, including Ronaldo and Neuer! Whilst the print out faces catch the eye, I think my favourite feature is the garden rake playing the part of Neuer’s goalkeeper arms.

So it would be wrong to deny some very fond memories of the sunnier days of July and August. Garden games, garden reading, the occasional cheeky garden cocktail. More importantly, everyone so far safe and well. But there is no escaping the fact that I’ve found the lack of variety incredibly difficult. For July and August, I could easily substitute April and May. When did Spring become Summer? When did work really stop? (For the dramas of school results and school re-opening have certainly kept me chained to my work emails on a daily basis.) I love being part of a seasonal nation and Summer for me should distinguish itself with adventure, travel and new experiences. Instead I gear myself up to roll into a socially distanced Autumn wondering if we will even notice the summertide departure.

Well I guess the sunny days will lessen. So here’s hoping that Small Boy has some ideas for livening up ‘lounge life’….