Reasons to be cheerful, part 3 – gardening for ever!


Or maybe that reason to be cheerful should be ‘happy chance’.

I made myself a cup of herb tea this morning and it had a tag on it with an uplifting thought (I know, I know – ergh…). Normally I ignore these things but something made me look, and the inspiring thought was ‘Life starts when we start growing a garden’ – thanks, Yogi Teas.

(Well, life and swearing, but then we have been doing some major seasonal clearing.)

Going by that slogan – I can’t bring myself to call it an ‘inspiring thought’ again – my life began pretty much as soon as my life began:

My parents were very, very keen gardeners; at one point my mother had even taught gardening – gardening and French, in a rather exotic combination. My father was probably more obsessed with photography, but it was a close-run thing (I’ve inherited that obsession too). Fine weather inevitably meant being outside and usually in a garden, wherever we were living. Unsurprisingly I – and a little bit later, my brother – were encouraged to join in. There was never any idea of giving us our own part of the garden; we just stuck our trowels in wherever we were allowed to do so.

Mind you, even our parents realised that there were some tasks which were better supervised than participated in by two-year-olds:

Chunky thighs and a wee hand-knitted tam. Some things never change. And I still prefer to supervise the lawnmowing, though that has more to do with having a sloping garden and a heavy mower. Honestly.

Raking through the old photo albums in search of evidence, I was brought up short by this, captioned ‘Katharine and her favourite flower, a– ‘ – well, let’s wait for the reveal:

I remember loving them, but I didn’t remember any actual proof, and yet here it is.

And I still love them, and was delighted last year to find some and introduce them into my garden, despite the fact that they are terribly, terribly out of fashion.

They’re Pyrethrums – and I still like them in red. Or maybe it’s more of a crimson. Don’t care, love it whatever it is.

They’re so uncomplicated, so cheerful, so bright. They almost look like a child’s drawing, and maybe that was one of the things that appealed to me – I have found an even earlier Pyrethrum pic in which I must have been about 9 months old – or maybe I just loved wild colours (I was never a pink person, even then).

I’ve always had strong views on fashion in gardening, and how it can lead to the eclipse of perfectly good plants… I think I’m going to have to start the Rehabilitation of the Pyrethrum as a Border Plant Society, otherwise known as the RPBPS. I’m hoping we can pick up members from birding types who can’t type ‘RSPB’ properly.

How about other people’s early experiences? Was anyone else equally thrilled by a particular plant, and if so, what?


20 Comments Add yours

  1. hillwards says:

    Very pretty, love the colour. I remember being obsessed with big flouncy wild scarlet poppies almost as tall as me on holidays… I would pick them and they became dancers with sweeping skirts 🙂

    1. kate says:

      Very imaginative on the poppy front – I never did that! We used to fire balsam flowers at each other though (evidently you were more ladylike than me, or maybe my brother just inspired plant-based violence)…

  2. What a cutie you were thanks for sharing your pictures – I haven’t seen a Pyrethrum for years – it’s strange how flowers go in and out of fashion isn’t it – I’ll join the RPBPS and be your first member!

    1. kate says:

      They’re a hoot (little girls never wore trousers in our village then, and people constantly thought I was a boy)… Good for you on the Pyrethrum front – HOORAY!

  3. wellywoman says:

    Alpines were my first love. My parents gave me a little patch of garden and I would go off to the garden centre with some pocket money and buy some little plants. I think I partly loved them so much because the plants were small and therefore cheaper !!! I also loved sempervirens and still do. A really lovely post.

    1. kate says:

      Ohm I can really see the appeal of alpine to a child – wonderful things and on the right scale! I won a cactus at our village show when I was about six, and that got me in a similar way; I’ve still got some. Lithops, I loved lithops. Whatever happened to them?

  4. patientgardener says:

    What a lovely post – I really enjoyed reading about your parents

    1. kate says:

      Thank you… we never lose our parents’ influence, really, do we? Or, in the case of some of the things in my garden, lose their actual plants!

  5. Crystal says:

    My father used to grow huge hollyhocks, or maybe it was because I was so small that they appeared to be so tall. Anyway, I’ve tried to grow them several times since, without much success.

    1. kate says:

      Oh, what a shame… I’m not much good with them either, so I can’t pass on any tips. I remember red-hot pokers which were much taller than me (we used to hide behind them), and that is definitely down to my size…

  6. Christina says:

    You cheered my day (trapped by snow drifts). I too enjoyed gardening with my father, my mother hated gardening, I have a very early photo somewhere where I look very like you dressed for helping to tidy up prunings from the garden. Christina

    1. kate says:

      I think clearing prunings sounds a bit like the gardening equivalent of sending small children up chimneys – I hate that job! Wonder where I first experienced it, though? you’ve got me thinking….

      You have snow, where you are – and we don’t? Something’s askew. Oh, I know there’s been fuss in the media about snow in the UK, but that’s the media’s version of the UK: London and the south-east, home counties and East Anglia, extending up the east coast. It was 10 degrees on the coast of Wales at one point yesterday…

  7. Kate, these are the cutest pictures 🙂
    And a delightful post, although excuse me if I dont join your RPBPS society …. just yet

    1. kate says:

      I’ll get you soon!

      It’s a pity those pics – some of my father’s – weren’t wired for sound, apparently. My mother said I used to make very loud, uncouth drinking noises when I watered the garden, much to everyone’s amusement; in fact it was still cracking her up 30 years later, and all her friends too, who would become helpless with laughter if it was so much as mentioned in passing… Maybe it’s just as well they weren’t movies!

  8. You were certainly a keen little gardener early on weren’t you! Until I saw your photo of the pyrethrum, I hadn’t realised how I had missed them, must do something about that, what have you started!! Thanks for stopping by my blog.

    1. kate says:

      Oh yeah (mind you, I’m not sure that I had a lot of choice, ahem)…. Good on the pyrethrum front! Go pyrethrums!

  9. What great photos! I grew up thinking that gardening was about hacking down roses in Spring (which used to make me cry when I was really small), mowing the lawn and weeding. None of which I enjoyed. It was strange bonding with my parents about gardening as an adult, once I got my own first garden. I like your pyrethrum, I will happily join the RPBPS, as long as you provide cool T shirts…

    1. kate says:

      I think any T shirts would have to be BRIGHT pink, with a big yellow dot. Or aybe white but with a huge pyrethrum. I shall look into this immediately and consult with Artists’s Garden who is, after all, a textile artist – ah, mind you, not (yet) a pyrethrum fan…

      When I read your experience I was reminded of an old friend of mine. She’d been a bit wild, got a house with a garden, and boy, did she get into it. It was a wonderful link to her parents, especially her dad, with whom she’d fallen out. She settled down a bit, they got their relationship back on track, and just in time – he died a couple of years later. Gardening works wonders! (Except picking up prunings. That’s still boring as all out.)

  10. Anna says:

    Pyrethrums are fine flowers and I like the colour of the one in your photo. All my childhood photos are black and white too – must say something about our respective ages 🙂 My parents were both keen gardeners – Mum still is but is limited in what she can do by age and mobility issues. My earliest gardening memories are the scent of honeysuckle and roses and of eating gooseberries straight from the bush – some of them still unripe 🙂

    1. kate says:

      Go Pyrethrums!

      Unfortunately both my parents are dead and have been for some time – Dad died very young – but they did pass their addiction on to both of us. We’re lost causes whose idea of presents is always ‘something for the garden’ and who firmly believe that brown paper bags are an essential part of a pocket (that would be for seedheads).

      (Dad used to develop and print his photographs and, while he could turn the kitchen into a B&W darkroom without too much trouble – except from Ma in search of tea – I think colour was out of the question. I’ve got lots of colour ones, but the colours are often a bit odd – must be time, incorrect storage, or 1960s film; such a shame. As a bit of a purist myself, I vote for black and white every time, and the use of a film camera, preferably a Leica. Only went digital about 18 months ago – it’s shocking…)

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