Posts Tagged ‘Mum’s garden’

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:

Mum in LA in 1972

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Who needs La Santa Sport?

-When you can get all the exercise you could ever need by crossing the country to help your Mum create a garden from scratch?

The garden at the “new” house (well, after a year I guess it’s no longer the “new house”, but simply “my Mum’s house”) was a flat, barren stretch of lawn. It did set off the simplicity of the house nicely – it was like a gem perched on a pedestal – but it hardly encouraged spending time outside. And my Mum likes to be outside, and she likes to have lots of plants and variety in her garden.

The latter especially frustrated the garden designer she had won in some magazine contest. (Well, she had won around $2000 worth of her services, anyway.) Three separate plans were created before my Mum was finally happy with it. And… The I arrived on Thursday and looked through the plans and the plants my Mum had purchased to turn it into reality, and I quickly saw quite a few discrepancies.

First of all my Mum hadn’t bought the required quantities of the plants in the plan, and secondly she had also bought quite a few plants that weren’t in the plan at all… So with respect for the lines of the plan it was taken back to the drawing board when I got there.

Planning Mum's garden

We didn’t have any tracing paper at hand, so baking paper was used instead. (Not a great substitute, but it worked.) I sketched up the outlines and then tried desperately to get my Mum to sit down with me to go through it end-to-end so she could get the garden she wanted with the plants she had.

She’s a bit of a scatter-brain, though, so she kept running off on tangents – or leaping from one section of the garden to the other – and it was really quite a chore. It took 4 hours on the Thursday afternoon, 3 hours on Friday morning and a total of three re-drawings of the plan before she finally said this was the plan. Then I drew up the final version with all of the plant names, the plant lists and so on and we went shopping for the few remaining plants that were “must-haves”.

Some of the plants won’t be available in nurseries ’till spring, but that’s all right. They will come in time. Others were more of a challenge as they are not readily available in nurseries at all, and one of our requests even prompted the reply “Oh, that’s gone out of style; it’s not used any more”… As if plants ever REALLY go out of style! (For the record it was a rather lovely white lonicera shrub, and it SHOULD be “in style”.)

Creating the new shrub hedges around the garden required some serious digging, but fortunately my younger brother is a contractor, so he came with a mini digger and a motorised wheel barrow.


Even so, some areas had to be dug by hand – and of course a lot of the planting holes had to be hand-dug as well, so there was plenty of work for the 10 adults – and four kids – working in the garden on the Saturday. Add to this that my Mother-in-law had come with me so she could be in charge of the in-doors; food, plenty of coffee, child minding and cleaning.

Borders outlined

The garden design is very square; lots of straight angles to oppose the angles of the house, and it will all – eventually – be a very “tidy” arrangement. We lined out all the beds and borders with plastic barriers so the grass roots won’t infest the beds too badly, and the beds in the lawn are completely square and aligned with the boundaries of the garden, creating lots of triangles with the house which is at an angle to the plot.

Once the ground work was done, though, I became frustrated with my Mum again. She kept wanting to make changes to the plan that I had spent a total of 7 hours drawing up with her – taking her step by step, plant by plant through every bed and border to ensure she felt she got exactly what she wanted and felt an ownership over the plan – and at times saying that we’d agreed on changes that we just hadn’t drawn on the plan. (Of course I drew every change she wanted in, since I thought we should end up with a plan precise enough for the garden to be done even if neither she nor I had been present during the work.)

It was very frustrating to have to work hard to dig out a bed on one side of the house and continuously having to run around the house to ensure that my Mum didn’t as people to plant stuff in one place when she had decided it should be in another. (This happened a LOT!) Some times it was due to a change of heart – which was allowed – and some times it was due to forgetfulness – which was not allowed. Being a bit of a catter-brain myself it was really hard having to make sure my Mum thought every change through so she wouldn’t forget it.

The one change I allowed her, though, was a reversal to something I had really liked…

Placing a stone

She rather quickly dropped the plan to have any field stones in the shrub borders, but then of course she forgot that and on Sunday morning she asked my brother to fetch them in the digger. *sigh* It had been a lot easier, had she decided this on Saturday morning, but the stones got in place, though the digger obviously destroyed all the digging which had been done in the border the day before.

This stone, though, is beautiful; it stands up like a triangular shape with lovely swerving horizontal bands, and I must say my younger brother has quite a skill with the mini digger! he moved the stone from the nearby field, got it in place and stood it up without a hitch. There will be large shrubs behind it and small groundcovers in front, and it will look like a modern-day rune stone. He also placed a slightly smaller stone (around 200 pounds) as a seating stone in the front of another section of the shrub border.

Rose beds, orchard and stone

The most significant aspect of the new garden is the three square rose beds of alternating sizes, each backed by a box hedge and with three fruit trees in the lawn behind them. On the other side there will be a herb patch as well, and there’s a small triangular patch at the back of the house.

It all looks rather empty right now, but even with 10 people working in the garden Saturday and 4 on Sunday we just didn’t have time to finish completely. All the large shrubs were planted, though, and the smaller shrubs were marked out, and most importantly it now looks like a garden in the making, rather than a piece of flat lawn.

Mind you, it will have to be a while before I see my Mum again. After my Dad died – and even some time before that – she has become very pessimistic, often focusing on “it’s a shame that…” rather than “how great that…”. I do love her, but that sort of negativity is very hard to deal with on a sustained level.

She knows, though, that her garden will be lovely. There will be not a single plant she did not pick herself, not a single area without some sort of interest throughout the year, not one moment when she can’t see beauty from the vast living room windows. She just needs to focus on this, rather than on the plants that are either impossible or excessively expensive to source.
But then… One day spring will come, and her garden will be full of narcissi, tulips, rhododendrons, roses, dahlias… And before all that, well… With any luck the witch hazel will bloom in its first year!

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