My Father’s Hands
I get my fingers from my Dad.
As in my actual fingers – or at least that’s what my Mum always says. “You have your Dad’s hands”. Now that’s not such an attractive look when you consider my Dad is a big man, with large, strong, often grubby, shovel like hands. Grubby not because he doesn’t wash but because for most of his working life, he has been a gardener. To be fair, that is probably an inaccurate description of him. He has ALWAYS been a gardener. Even when it didn’t pay his wages. In fact he still gardens for others now, despite being well past retirement age.
And last night, while I watered my own garden, a heap of childhood garden memories came flooding back.
Back in the 70s
..my Dad had a lengthy period of unemployment. He was not alone, those years were tough. Not one for being idle he kept himself busy building a garden which would keep us self sufficient in vegetables and salads – and raspberries. We lived on the very edge of a brand new council estate. And with that house came a huge back garden.
He set about creating beds for peas, cabbage, cauliflowers, raddish, lettuce, spring onions and more in the summer. Potatoes were our staple diet! We had a lean to home made plastic greenhouse for tomatoes. Even a cucumber was attempted as I recall. And we grew raspberries. How posh was that? Well I thought it was posh as we never ever bought them. They were too expensive. My strongest recollection was going out to pick peas or raspberries for tea and getting a row from my Mum for eating as many as I picked for the sieve. That’s what you probably know as a colander.
Then, not content with the space he had, he and a neighbour set about claiming some more. When I say we were on the edge of the estate, I really mean on the edge. It was just miles of rough grass and weeds behind us. Or at least it felt like miles when you were just seven years old. Before we knew it, the whole row of houses had extended their gardens. Some to grass for a game of football. Not my Dad, he grew his roses down there and of course, made a compost area too. Nothing went to waste.
Where did the hot summers go?
Now, when I think back to my childhood, all I see is hot summers and late night watering. We had to be in our beds by 9pm. Then he would be out with his hose pipe. A hose pipe that didn’t even have a fancy nozzle – because the big man would simply squeeze the end of the pipe to vary the flow from spray to jet to running water. Me and my brother would be up at our window watching – he would turn and jet the glass to give it a clean. Without fail we would jump back and dissolve into squeals and giggles shouting “again, again!” Watering the gardens on a hot summers night became a community affair. All the men out laughing and shouting along the row, ribbing about a football score or some such banter, while Mums were shushing them because “the kids are in bed”.
And as the first rumbles of the promised thunderstorm start here this evening I recall the night everyone was out watering, bare to the waist, shirts flapping in the warm humid breeze when flash! Crash! And the heavens opened.
Yes, I have such fond and vivid memories of growing up with a garden and a Dad who was so at home there. I think that is why I couldn’t be without my own garden. We live on the edge of moorland and are gradually reclaiming our garden back from felled larch stumps, blaeberry and juniper. I also grow produce for ourselves, but not on as big a scale as my Dad did. Could I even try my hand at growing from seed, now I have a little more time. I was spurred on by having discovered some five year old seed packets in the greenhouse which I sprinkled out to see if any would germinate.
But I really love my herbaceous and shrub borders. Up here we have to be disciplined when it comes to buying. There are some plants which are like opening a Michelin starred restaurant for roe deer. Others struggle with our harsh winds and sub zero temperatures. So I have resigned myself to the fact that some of favourite bushes back in leafy Cheshire will remain a distant memory. Meanwhile, my Mum always says Dad could make anything grow so I am channelling his green fingers into the plants which are now watered in and making their home here in the Cairngorm National Park.
Thanks to My Father’s Hands
And guess what? Those old seeds I sowed? There are green bits in my rocket and basil! I swear I can see a bit of parsley coming through too. See, it’s true. I have got my Dad’s hands. I have the compost under my finger nails to prove it.