When we were in Guernsey the other day, mum started chatting about the houses that we have lived in over the years. She began with their first home, the one she and dad lived in when they were first married. Then the house that they built together with a States of Guernsey loan and where we grew up as a young family. The middle stages of our family life together came next at our house near the centre of the island; more convenient for dad to get to and from work and giving him more time at home. From there the move was to a brand new build on a small Clos, and from that home there was the one to where mum now lives, overlooking Belle Grève Bay, the islands and the White Rock where dad was a docker for much of his working life.
We then went back over the list, and the times that we spent at each. I noticed that these next memories were significantly around the gardens of each home.
The small garden in their first home, surrounded by vibrant farmland and in an area where and at a time when many still grew their own potatoes, some root veg and brassicas. Then at our next home, where I first came into being, was the beautiful lawn and vegetable garden that mum and dad created; a peaceful garden nourished by seaweed and which has formed the backdrop of photos of so many guests that stayed at mum and dad's B&B. From here was a move closer to dad's work, and for me my favourite garden of the homes in which we lived; one which was bordered on two sides by a growing bamboo fence line that seemed to stretch to the heavens and was as deep as any deep hedge can be. The dozen chickens would roam under the arching laburnum in their own vast chicken-wired homestead. We would grow in the greenhouse - tomatoes, melons and cucumbers - and Freddy the tortoise would hibernate in here overwinter, under the bench in a hay-stuffed box. My older brother kept pigeons in his pigeon hut; all fanciful feathers and courteous cooing. And then there was the seemingly vast area of orchard with eating apples, cooking apples, pears and a plum tree; trees ripe for climbing, pruning, fruiting and harvesting. Across the path was the ever so productive vegetable garden that dad would find his spare time in, and I would go and help him and learn and feel love. The leisure area of the garden was another large space sandwiched between here and the back of the house. A small-scale formal garden of canna lilies, fuchsia, hydrangea and strawberries sat alongside the vast patio where people would smile and parties would happen and the sun would forever shine. I guess these were very happy years; a family of five in full swing.
Moving on and downsizing, with the family with heartache doing the same, the gardens that mum and dad created around our Grande Rocque home were truly amazing, particularly considering there was nothing there to start with and that the base soil was significantly sand. There were wonderful borders edged with pink and blue granite and the bowling green lawns that dad created. These bowling green lawns were truly bare feet worthy; springy and soft, and lush and life-enhancing. I remember dad always having a little pocket knife with him; walking across the vibrant green lawn he would dip down and dig out a dandelion or daisy and they would get thrown on the compost heap. You see, dad wanted a pristine lawn, and that's exactly what his groundsmanship delivered. Then the palm trees went in, Cordeline Australis and a very spiky yucca that we smuggled back from Ibiza... sshhhh, don't tell! Mum would tend her roses and all the colour of the garden and the two of them would spend hours just being; the two of them in sync.
When it got to the stage where the garden and the painting of the house was really getting too much for them both, they decided to move to where mum lives now. A garden, of course, was essential, and if it be in many pots then that would do quite well.
Mum and dad chose an apartment on the ground floor where they have spent many countless hours sitting on the patio taking in the sun and the sea and the salty air. At one point there were 84 pots of varying shapes and sizes containing flowers of various sorts, though the ones that have always taken mum's fancy are Arum lilies, hydrangeas, and geraniums and pelargoniums. On any drive around the island we would pass a house that used to sell these colourful scented plants on the roadside, it was just around from Port Soif. Whatever variety they had, whether crinkle leaf or flat or variegated, and whatever colour, whether white or pink or crimson or purple, these were always called Port Soif plants - mum's Port Soif plants. Many of them still flourish now and are topped up with other plants each year, all from cuttings mum so studiously loves taking. As it's now winter, and all in the pots is pretty sparse apart from a few geraniums still holding on to a scrambling of flowers, we left mum with 200 blue LED lights rambling through the dead and dying branches of the plants in the pots. Many of these plants will be back out next year, including the geraniums, and particularly the hydrangeas with their resplendent vibrant mop heads replacing the dancing feathery dried pom pom heads which are on view today. In the meantime, it will be the bright blue gems of LED that will dance in the breeze and please the eye.
It was in this 15 or 20 minutes of chatter, whilst Richard had a shower, that it brought me back to the fact that I know so well... Gardens in all their many guises are a haven for the body and a haven for the soul.
We are beginning to learn of and understand the benefits of gardening and gardens, and how the act of gardening and the time of spending time in green open spaces and gardens, alone and with others, is so beneficial to our mental and physical health. What dawned on me as mum and I sat chatting about the plants, the layout, the weather, and the times of fun that had been had in all these homes was that the memories of gardens, outdoor spaces and wonderful places nourishes and can live with us forever. It is through these moments of memory that we roll back in time and space. It is in these moments of memory that we literally do travel in time.
I guess these times and these memories are where the seeds for The Guernsey Gardener in London were sown. And now I can share these moments with others, if they so wish.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 18
Gosh, it was a rather busy and unexpectedly emotional day yesterday!
I said to Richard on Saturday that I wanted to make a Christmas Pudding, as it was Stir-Up Sunday this weekend which is the traditional day that people in the UK would make their Christmas Puddings; families all coming together and giving the mix a stir, each making a wish as they did so. It's obviously one of those traditions that is dying out swiftly now that we can go to any supermarket or corner shop and buy the pasty, sweet, microwaveable, unrecognisable Christmas Puddings that they sell these days. However, I was absolutely sure there is nothing like the real thing that mum used to make, and I wanted to make it. So make it we did!!
Now, I haven't made mum's Christmas Puddings for many decades. In fact, I don't think I've made a traditional Christmas Pudding since I last made one with mum when I must have been in my very, very early 20s.
Mum had given me one of her old cookery books some years back. It's an old Hamlyn cookery book with a pale blue cloth-like cover. The dust sheet has long been lost, and various splodges of cake batter and gravy now sit comfortably alongside the jaded and faded fake gold lettering on the cover binding. It wasn't actually the recipe for Christmas Pudding in the book that I was looking for though. You see, I knew that mum's handwritten recipe of HER Christmas Pudding was on a piece of paper cradled between two of the leaves of the book. I took Cooking In Colour off of my cookery book shelves (note... MY cookery book shelves, not OUR cookery book shelves!). I found the slip of mottled paper with red writing, and then remembered what I had known all along... the list of ingredients used and their weights was for 16 puddings, and I certainly didn't want to make 16!! So I set to and converted all of the ounces into grams and millilitres and then divided all of the total amount of each ingredient by 16. In the end, looking at the full list of ingredients and their weights for one pudding, I decided that I would do one and a half times this reduced amount of mix. It turned out that this was perfect for making 8 individual puddings; it was Richard's idea to make individual puddings rather than one large one, and I think that he had the right idea.
It was in the first moments of stirring this scented mix that the initial sense of the past came back to me... Standing around the dining room table with mum at my side and a huge plastic Tupperware in front of us. We would stir the mixture thoroughly, ensuring that everything was incorporated; no pockets of dry flour here, and no clumps of gooey, squidgy chopped prunes there. Just one unctious flavourful dried fruit, almond, sugar, suet, rum and stout paste. We'd have to take turns in doing the stirring as the quantity of mixture was so large it was really quite tiring on the arms!
My second sense of the past was when I could smell the puddings steaming. The gentle spicy aroma filled the kitchen, then our middle room, the ground floor, then the upstairs until the whole house was engulfed in scented memories. And boy did that aroma take me back decades again! I've obviously smelt Christmas Puddings over the decades, though none have given me this sense of days of old.
And then we jump forward to the tasting, and wowsers... didn't that bang me right back to being a child!! Sitting around the table at Christmas, with family and friends and some people that I didn't even know who they were. Presents had been opened and played with and the turkey carcass was sitting under tinfoil on top of the fridge. There we all were with our coloured paper Christmas cracker hats on, all feeling slightly boozy (even us youngsters as we were allowed Babycham!), terrible jokes had been read aloud, useless cracker gifts were spread around the tablecloth, some gleeful choir was singing updated carols and festive songs on the radio... and then would come mum's Christmas Puddings. Glistening. Flaming. And beautiful. In my opinion, heavenly. 😊
If you've seen the video of us making the Christmas Puddings you will see how I got rather overwhelmed by emotion. It was simply because the taste of this pudding just sent me back decades to all the memories above - to the joys of those people, of which too many are sadly no longer in our lives today, though they will live forever in our hearts... dad, my brother Perri, Aunty Phil, Uncle Len, Aunty Betty and Uncle Mick. Life is so short, yet it can also be so joyous.
And I guess that's the wonderful thing about food, along with many other daily necessities and luxuries.
In the depths of our minds we have so many memories that are associated with a smell or a taste or a sight or a sound, and even a touch. It's in moments like these, sometimes decades later, when these special times are relived, most often unexpectedly, that we're just taken back to our childhood or back to special moments of remembrance. It can be quite overwhelming, though it can also be so enriching too. I for one am so pleased that we have these moments as they highlight time's gone by; for me many are wonderfully sweet and happy whilst some are more bittersweet. However, these memories and events are part of the person each of us is today, and hopefully even more memories can be made for us to fall back to as we get older, and wiser, and remember.
And... as I sat in our front room this morning quietly doing the final edit of this blog before posting it, something quite lovely, unexpected and extraordinary happened, though this story will have to wait for another day...
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 14
You may have seen already the video of me planting out our Messidrome Garlic, and our Bunyard's Exhibition Broad Beans. It felt like such an achievement after seemingly endless delays; day-on-day and week-on-week 'other things' needing to happen since their respective beds were ready in early October. However, they're in, and hopefully the plump garlic cloves are each putting down their thread-like roots, and the broad beans are swelling so that the little primary root of each seed – the radicle root - can force its way out of its shell and into soft, loamy earth. Bliss!!
This morning, in sorting out various photos on my phone, I noticed I had accidentally taken one of the Messidrome Garlic bed after the cloves had been planted. The thing that struck me was the tiny difference between the two pictures - the 'before' and the 'after' shot if you like. On the left is the 'before' shot, with the soft soil topped by a small guideline, whilst the 'after' shot looks virtually identical though without the line.
It made me think of two things.
The first is that what we see above our sacred soil can hide so much of what's going on beneath a quiet surface. So much of what we do in growing our own food starts off, after planting or sowing, with nothing seemingly happening... then a shoot breaks through the soil and we smile. Though still then, especially with root and tuber crops, garlic, and ground nuts like peanuts, we don't fully know what is going on underneath; a forest of vibrant growth above may simply only suggest what is going on down below.
My second thought is that by simply removing that guideline, and without knowing the time and energy I had put in to planting the individual cloves, it would seem as though little had happened. In fact I had spent a good while splitting each of the garlic cloves from the bulb, checking each clove for disease or damage, gently raking the top of the soil, placing down the guideline, laying each clove along its line and in its row, adjusting the spacing here and there, using a trowel to gently make the planting hole, placing each individual clove in its own growing space in the damp soil, covering each clove up and then carefully smoothing out the surface of the soil. So much time and effort had gone into this planting, though the only visible sign to show for it that day was the removal of a piece of string.
It made me think that we humans are similar.
What others see on the surface of us, in our face, our gestures, our stance and even our words often tell a very different story than what is happening beneath the surface, inside our bodies, inside our brains. And the fact that we might go along with the actions and words of others does not make us them, and to understand that is key.
In addition, what might seem a simple task to one person may to another be herculean. The result of an activity for two people may be the same, though the process for each may be entirely different. For one that activity could be a simple run-of-the-mill, day-in day-out task, whilst to the other the task may be monumental, take much more thought, energy, learning, fear and time. Again, understanding that we are each different is key.
Being thoughtful, caring and understanding of others is so important in today's exhilarating and vapid world - a world where good traits are often seen as a weakness, and time spent on good, thorough achievement is often disregarded.
It’s important to find one’s own guideline in life, and the line that is right for each of us can show itself at very different stages of our life, and they often change as the years pass. What was once so important is now irrelevant, and vice versa. Endeavouring to find that line and follow it is again key.
In my life, where others have seen a weakness in me, I have learnt to find a strength, and seeking and finding the right guideline has brought me to where I am today, and I am quite happy with where that is.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 11
...long term partners.