Thursday, 5 January 2012

Ghosts of gardens past


I have just read the excellent article in the January edition of The Garden by Lia Leendertz about the ghosts of the gardeners who created the great historic gardens.  I like the piece as it talks of the working men and boys who did the physical work, the ordinary people rather than the rich.  It reminds me of visiting gardens with a friend who would mutter as we walked around 'this is built with the blood and sweat of our forefathers.

This made me think further about the ghosts that lurk in my own garden.  The house was built c.1927 by the local authority.  As mentioned in previous posts the garden was almost totally lawn when I bought the house.  However, when I look from the bedroom window I can see the shadow under the grass of the straight path that once cut through the lawn.  If I go through the back door, directly in line with this path there is a hook attached the house.  It is clear that the washing line once ran in parallel to this path.  If I traced it to its end and dug down I am sure I would find the remnants of the concrete post that held the other end of the washing line.

I think there was a greenhouse at the top of the garden, along the line of the rear boundary.  There is much glass in the soil there.  It is largely window glass (though some appears to be bathroom window glass).  I think at some point previously this garden was gardened.  The house was built for a sewage farm worker, the sewage farm was close by (yes I live in the House at Pooh Corner).  These would not have been wealthy people, they would have grown their own vegetables because they had to especially in the hard war years when flowers took up needed space.  I am certain that my apple trees date from the building of the house and are a key part of its past.

As I have dug new borders I have found various lumps of concrete under the grass.  Previous occupants appear to have dealt with unwanted areas by grassing over them rather than removing them.  I do a lot of concrete removal.  As I do this I try and work out what am I removing.  Some of it was the washing line path, but there is some in other areas of the garden, I don't think its anything decorative like a patio, but it must have had some use.

In some areas of the garden the soil is quite good and rich.  This is nothing to do with the covenant on my house that forbids me to spread human slurry in the garden if it causes a nuisance (clearly it is possible to spread it without causing a nuisance, yet I have held off from the practise nonetheless).  In other parts of the garden there is little topsoil, there is just thick clay.  In some areas I find broken crockery.  I would like to think this is a romantic Victorian rubbish tip, but the shards of pottery look 1960s to me and as mentioned before, the house was not here in Victorian times anyway.  I have taken to collecting this pottery, in my optimistic mind I have ideas of creating a mosaic of some sort using the pots I break (frequently, I'm clumsy) and the pottery found in the garden.

I also wonder when the 1960s pottery-discarders were the same people responsible for the crazy paving?  Well someone liked it at the time and I confess that I see it as a part of the creation of the garden.  Yes I could have it removed and put some wonderful classy stone work in its place; which in 40 years time someone will look at and think it is as old-hat and cliche ridden as the crazy paving appears now.  So for now I let it lie, it is a part of  the story.

The ghosts of the previous owners are there in my garden, not so much in the planting.  The trees are the patient witnesses to the last 85 years, they have seen so much and still hopefully have much to see.  The ghosts in my garden are ordinary people, who lived their ordinary lives.  There was no great historic gardening yet they linger on, as I hope when I have left this house, so will I.  In decades to come someone will look in the garden and say "which flipping idiot thought it a good idea to plant that there" and my ghost will smile.

11 comments :

  1. This post is the one I began my day with this morning. What a nice thought that ghosts linger.

    I enjoy your writing style very much.

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  2. Love this post! I do always wonder how much old trees have seen going on under their canopy. Such tales they could tell, I'm sure!

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  3. Hi Alison,

    Your garden sounds similar to mine; also ex-local authority and built in the 30's. It's actually only had three owners and even then the previous owners were only here a year or so as they gutted the house, landscaped the garden and moved off to wales! My neighbour was born in his house, moved away with his wife and then for whatever reason moved back no doubt when his parents were elderly. The original owner was my neighbours Uncle or cousin, I think so no doubt there's some history in our garden and he used to have a veggie patch up at the top. So the soil is excellent up there, however in orther areas it's terrible solid yellow clay and I often dig up bricks, pieces of wood, cement blocks and such! Grrrr, so annoying because you just never quite know what you're going to find :D

    Sadly there are no mature trees in my gardens; there are however old Roses that I suspect the original owner planted in the front and I have to wonder just how long they've been there.

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  4. What a wonderful post. You really made me smile. :) If you think about it, the really important gardening is the 'ordinary' gardening.

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  5. I must have ghosts aplenty in my garden but I think they would be washing and working and tending the farm. I suspect a garden would have been a luxury in the sense we have it now! Lovely post.

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  6. Like you I own a historic home with lavish gardens. The gardens were designed by hand in 1928 by a gardener from New Mexico.

    She and her husband designed tr-level gardens with man-made steps, stone walkways, patios and all are surrounded the yard and down the driveway is a four foot river rock wall with stately columns at the street entrance.

    There is a special energy in this garden and I am really glad that I can tend to the needs of the garden every year.

    I enjoyed your post…it was lovely.

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  7. @SGolis your garden sounds fascinating - really interesting

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  8. You've made me look at my garden with new eyes this morning.The evidence of the ghosts are all around...the pig sty and well at the end of the garden for starters...they must have been there for years and years (i live in a thatched cottage which is over 350 years old) ...and the ash tree.One of my neighbours in her nineties remembered that being planted over sixty years ago!
    You've distracted me now - and I really must get some work done!

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  9. So delighted that this was your reaction to the piece, it's perfect. And really interesting to look again at more 'normal' gardens in this way too. I too have crazy paving that I am desperate to get rid of. Oh lord, do I have to keep it now?!

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  10. Hi - the first ghost for my garden will be me as we bought a new build property! However, up at the allotment I find quite a few bits of broken crockery...

    I wonder if your restrictive covenant is a reaction to the common practice of spreading 'night soil' on the garden?

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