Before I tell you something..I wonder if you’d like to write down your earliest garden memory? Get a largish piece of paper, perhaps a hand-made paper, or something very lovely. You may even want to frame this one! Now sit, preferably outside, gaze at the horizon, remembering. Then begin writing. Be as detailed as you can….flowers, activities, people, scents, feelings, colours, places, gardens, kitchens, there may even be memories you may think bad ones. Anything garden or nature-related.
Then, put your memories aside for the moment. Right now, I want to tell you about a morning in Brisbane, at a retirement village. We sit around tables with little terracotta bowls of dried rose petals, others with lavender flowers sitting on embroidered lace tablecloths. There are tiny drawstring bags in pink, purple, orange, white. Huge bunches of rosemary and of roses in old-fashioned vases in the centre of each table.
I ask this group of about 15 elderly retirement village residents, ‘What’s your earliest garden memory?’
Dorothy says ‘It was during the War. We had to grow veges or we had none. My job was to water the veges..heaven help me if I forgot, we depended on that food. My father made me a watering can. He punched holes in the bottom of a tin can, put a wire handle on the top so i could carry it. I had to fill it with water and walk up and down the rows of veges, make sure they got enough water.”
Joan ‘We did too, had to grow our veges. We lived in London. Where were you?’
Dorothy says “We lived in London too.”
‘Gosh! Old neighbours!’ I say. Everyone laughs.
Joan and Dorothy live in the same retirement village, a slow 10 minute walk from one another. They have never met before, never spoken. Amazing? Somehow sad. Yet now that they have, somehow hopeful!
Alcea has exotic tales..a life lived in Peru, South Africa, Europe, travelling as her husband was employed with a mining Company. A fabulous tale of the ‘Tropicana Nightclub, with a glass dome ceiling, with trees and swings and girls swinging on these over the heads of diners! Whew…no troublesome workplace health and safety getting in the way of Big Fun there!
But today- together we make lavender or rose bags. Small, coloured chiffon bags to hang in wardrobes. Or to hang in the shower so the smell is enjoyed while showering. Someone’s inspired to make an extra lavender bag for a beloved great-grandchild when she visits next. ‘Great idea!’ Others do too.
I take Photos of everyone enjoying the morning. There’s much laughter as everyone wants their “best side’ shown! Me too!
Two of the residents discover they’re both named Rose. They also have never met before. One talks of her now dead mothers rose garden..tears come to her eyes. The others nod, remembering too…
Margery remembers playing with a friend, making ‘perfume’ with rose petals and water, giving some to her mother for her birthday. Her mothers joy at receiving this. Margery laughs, with the knowledge of adulthood. We join in.
So many memories expressed in these answers- old friendships, fun, family history and secrets, lives led, plants special to certain people, events forgotten, now remembered.
I suggest that over the next 6 weeks we could do ‘Garden Walks’- visit everyone’s garden. Have a cuppa at each garden, morning tea, warm the friendships begun today. Ask one another “where did you get that plant?’ ‘What’s your favorite plant?’ Enable time to tell more of themselves. More of their garden histories, gardens remembered, garden companions, garden loves.
In this lovely activity today, I see the seeds of friendship sown, hear laughter, reminiscence, enable arthritic fingers to move and exercise, stimulate memory and imagination, be involved in meaningful activities. I record all this-with photos to be given to each, at our next time together and to put into a new photo album. A garden history together, to be added onto their life garden history. Everyone takes some roses or rosemary home.
So what was your garden memory? What did it say about you? Your philosophy on life? Your family? Relationships? What’s in those memories for you today, to think about?
My memory is of visiting my grandmother, a quirky, slightly radical soul- yes, a gardener! I was wanting desperately to climb the very high trellis to pick beans. How daring! How forbidden! My mother would have had a fit! ‘Why not!’ was Grandma’s response. Something that’s stayed with me all my life. Yes indeed ‘Why not!’ Have fun, take risks, climb high. I’ve had so much fun!
Then another memory. Sadder perhaps….but maybe not, depending on how its perceived. Shutting myself into my room. Dramatic family life, events that were definitely not ideal, swirling around me. Climbing out my bedroom window, picking grapes, and swiftly back in the window undetected, to read for hours. Grapes from the garden and a good book..what a great escape! What a comfort. Some may say, and I agree, that I learned to comfort myself when life was sad.