Pottering around in the garden, as I love to do on a sunny day, I cannot ever help but think of the previous owner of this property. She loved her garden, everyone says so. The hedges are stuffed with old bird boxes that she must have placed there decades ago. When you move them they quickly crumble apart in your hands. The lady who built this house, and who lived here until the day she died, loved to hear the birds singing. The birds sing for me too. I wake up, hear them singing and smile every morning, just as she may have done.
People around here knew the owner of this place quite well. They looked out for her, especially in her final years. She had a full-time live-in carer when she died, at the ripe old age of one hundred and six. Apparently she was still tut-tutting that the gardeners did not keep things up properly when she died.
When I bought the bungalow I thought the garden was going to need little work. It was one of the things I liked about the property, the low maintenance garden, but when I started pruning things back a little I could see there were problems to sort out. There so often are when you buy a house.
An electric trimmer had been repeatedly run over the top of everything in those last few years, taming the general shape of the plant and keeping its rim of outer leaves going, but letting the inside become woody and over-blown. So I had to really get stuck into the garden, pruning every one of the plants right back to the nubbins! In doing so I discovered things I never knew existed.
I’m no gardening expert! It was all trial and error for me, but as I worked I came to understand what the last owner had been saying about how the garden had been let go. It was a real shame. It must have been frustrating to sit and watch it happening. There were beautiful little plants struggling for life beneath the morass of rampant growth. It is as if the little guys have been beaten into submission by nature’s bully boys. When I came along with my well-meaning, slightly disgruntled, inexperienced attitude to gardening, giving the little guys access to sun, water and space, the more delicate plants rewarded me immediately with a beguiling display of colour and texture.
Gardening is not always about finding ways to make things grow. Even less is it about trips to the garden centre for fertiliser and a few annuals. It can be about protecting the small, and the vulnerable, while keeping the rampant bully-boys at bay! Once I tamed the big brutes the delicate little lookers started coming back into their own in gay abundance. Dare I say, without risking pathetic fallacy, they seemed to be smiling at me. At the very least they make me smile back at them.
I’m not saying I believe in ghosts or spirits, I don’t. I know the previous owner is not actually looking down on me, though it feels as if she might be. What I believe is that the land has a history. That history is helping me right now, every day. Every day I discover essential truths by treating the land and its history with respect, by thinking of the love and the efforts of those who have lived here before me.
The local dentist told me that the lady living here had check-ups well into her second century of life and that she insisted on buying and using an electric toothbrush, though it took her some getting used to at her age she said. She did this because she felt that it was the right thing to do. She wanted to keep up with the times.
During the renovations I gutted the house from floor to ceiling. The avocado bathroom and the blue formica kitchen simply had to go. I’m sure the previous owner would not have minded. She understood such things: the new gadgets that are now available, the way things move on and lifestyles change, the way things will always continue to move on.
The heavy, lined, red, velvet curtains in the bay window are definitely not my style. Though there was life left in them I sent them off to the local charity shop. It seemed a waste as they were obviously fairly new. She must have picked them out with a twinkle in her eye, thinking of Vaudeville and drinking a Campari and soda. I like to imagine it so. The previous owner must have spend a tidy sum on the new, red-velvet curtains for the bay window. I begged her pardon as I took them down. All that is in the past now, but the garden is still here and I am caring for it. I think the previous owner would be very pleased. In any case, it pleases me to think so.