On Saturday I travelled over to Jutland to visit my Mum, and though the plan had initially been for me to help her with some of the work still to be done in her new garden (levelling soil, shifting a few shrubs that have keeled over in the rather harsh winds around her hill-top house) this was hampered by frozen soil and four inches of snow. Not much point in trying to do anything in the garden… So I ended up setting up her new smartphone, downloading some apps she might like and getting her a cheap data subscription.
However, I did get to check up on my dahlia tubers that I sent on winter holiday chez Mum. They are doing fine, it seems, in her frost-free shed, and I can’t wait to get them home and into the soil, though that will not be for another 3 months. I still find it silly that I’ve actually taken my dahlia tubers across the country to over-winter at my Mum’s, but then I just don’t have a frost-free place to store them in the Summer House – or at least not a place with a constant temperature, as the house itself is heated to 5 degrees Celsius when nobody’s there but 22 degrees when I go there… I think the changes in temperature would confuse the tubers and possibly stress them, so they are better off in my Mum’s shed.
I look forward to getting them back, though, and there are a few other plants that my Mum bought for her garden but then decided against (including a plum tree with the name ‘Anita’, which also happens to be the name of my Mother-in-law) that she will be bringing over to the Flâneur Garden some time in spring. I’ll need to think hard about where I might find room for a tree… Because clearly I’m not turning down a free tree! The other plants are smaller and can more easily slot into the garden wherever there’s room, but a tree that’s already 3 meters tall will need a bit more consideration, especially because it’s not going to be as easy to move as, say, a pot of heuchera or a dahlia tuber…
Anyway, after visiting my Mum for a few days I headed for the island of Funen to visit my Grandmother. She’s 89 and was recently in hospital for 5 days, so it was sort of a “enjoy it while it lasts” visit. Her “new” house where she moved with my grandfather in 1992 or 1993 has a small suburban garden, and it’s slowly becoming less and less intricate. She has hired somebody to keep it for her, of course, but she is accepting gracefully that it’s becoming a “survival of the fittest” garden where some of her specimen plants perish because they are out-competed by their neighbouring plants. It’s still a lovely garden with great variety, though, and of course the stunning view over Storebælt, the Great Belt between the islands of Funen and Zeeland.
She’s a wonderful woman, always was. My Mother-in-law insists that she is gentle and sweet, but while I admit that she is that, too, she is also headstrong and stubborn. She’s a Strong Woman, as farmer wives have to be. But in this context, it’s perhaps most important that she’s a Gardener. My grandfather was in control of the pigs, the fields and the orchards, but she was in control of the house, the garden and the vegetable garden.
Her vegetable garden on the farm was so large that, rather than digging it, my grandfather would use a tractor and a harrow to do the autumn digging. At the back there was a long row of berry bushes; raspberries, red currants, black currants, gooseberries and so on. They would yield hundreds of pounds of berries every year, and provided the resources for gallons and gallons of cordial, jam and freezer bags. Then came row upon row of leeks, cabbages, marrow, carrots, potatoes, beans (peas were grown as a commercial crop, so part of that was frozen for home-use), and of course various herbs. Everything was interspersed with flowers, especially marigolds; they weren’t there to attract pollinators but simply to be used as cut flowers in the house. The scent of marigolds always reminds me of that vegetable garden.
The garden proper was vast. There was a vast expanse of lawn, stretching down from the perennial borders by the house down to the shrubberies before the hedge towards the road. There were huge trees – 2-300 years old – and lots and lots of flowers, but most of all there was a feeling of hiding places. You could always find a corner that nobody could see.
Her “new” garden is much smaller, of course, but it’s still lovely. There’s a flat area around her house and then there’s a steep, densely planted slope down to a more gently sloping lawn with a single flowerbed intersecting it. The lower part of the garden is interesting because of the plants, but from the top part your eye keeps being drawn – literally – out to see.
Both my Mum’s and my grandmother’s garden have sea views, which obviously helps any garden, and both are very much based on “back bones”; shrubs and structural plants that makes everything look ordered and tidy, even if the smaller, more fragile plantings might have been overgrown by more vigorous plants. I guess that’s the key to any elderly-friendly garden plan; to have something that looks neat and tidy as long as you get somebody in to mow the lawn and cut back some bushes every so often.
And, incidentally, that is also the key to a low-maintenance garden for a holiday home, so I really want to emulate their current gardens, rather than the gardens these two women used to have. (Even if the latter remains my secret ideal, it cannot be my ambition.)
On a more personal note, my Grandmother is growing old, which is in some ways sad and in some ways just the way things have to be when you’re pushing 90. I spent less than 24 hours at her place, yet she repeated the same stories perhaps 3-4 times – many of which she has already told me over the phone within the past few weeks. It is what it is. She’s still lovely, and she still has a lot to offer, conversation-wise – even if some of it is repetition. In the evening she went out to the large dresser in her hallway and asked me to open the concealed drawer – SO COOL with a concealed drawer, and many of her large chests of drawers have that sort of thing built into the top console – and we spent two hours going through old papers, drawings, genealogies and various artefacts. My great-great-grandfather’s book of recommendations from various employers, my great-grandmother’s handmade book marks, my grandfather’s service records from the army… I do love family history, and I like knowing where I come from.
And yes, I can trace at least parts of my family back to the 1600′s – though there are very few claims to fame in there. It’s mainly farmers, pottery-makers and the odd dairy-manager… As for exotic touches, there are none. Through the past 13 generations it seems there are just Danes, Danes and more Danes… However, I have personal stories from my great-great-grandparents and onwards, so that makes it exciting. I know where they lived, what they did, what their hobbies were.
And yes, in the Summer House we have a picture wall where both the Flâneur Husband’s and my family are on display. His family is portrayed back to his great-grandparents and I have my great-great-grandmother up there as well – a widowed mother of 7 who managed to put all of her kids through school and who is generally considered to have been quite a character. I have two pictures of her; one of her as a young girl, trying to look serious before the camera, and one of her as a stern-looking old woman with her hair swept back into a tight knot. I never met her, of course, but I knew three of her daughters – who died at the ages of 97, 99 and 103 respectively – and you can’t help but have the greatest respect for a woman who raised three daughters who turned out so different from each other. From the farmer’s wife (my great-grandmother) to the Copenhagen debutante-turned-singing teacher to the first woman to be elected for the Copenhagen city council – and also the first female school principal in Denmark. The latter two lived together as spinsters to the end of their lives, and they bequeathed their rather significant savings to foundations for “young female performing artists” and “single mothers under education” respectively. How cool is that?
Of course, in my book case there are also the memoirs of several of my grandparents and great-grandparents. And I’m currently proof-reading my grandmother’s edition of my great-grandfather’s memoirs. They’re not published, but they are printed for the family to read and keep so the stories will not die out with the older generations. People live and die, but stories have the potential to live forever. Like the story about how my grandmother was taken on family visits by riding in the side-car of my great-grandfather’s motor bike, travelling 200 miles to visit my great-great-grandparents. Or the story of my great-grandfather stealing my great-grandmother’s diamond engagement ring to cut a heart and their initials in one of the window panes in front of the kitchen zinc as an act of apology after having – once again – spent too much of their savings on yet another painting… (That pane was removed when they moved from that house, and my mother currently owns it, though she hasn’t hung it anywhere at present. She must, or I’ll insist she give it to me. It’s the most romantic family heirloom I could imagine.)
Anyway, that was a very long entry with no pictures, so if you’ve read this far in this rambling entry, thank you. Have a picture of my Mum as a reward:
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