Soil in my veins

.The old Gardeners Call pub sign that stands at the top of my garden says it really. Gardening has been my calling for all of 60 years.

It is undoubtedly in my soul. My paternal grandad grew the most amazing vegetables for his family of six children and did it between perfectly trimmed box hedges. My Dad (Gordon) picked up the veg baton from him but also spent hours tying in the tiny tendrils of clematis to lovingly constructed trellis. He gave me a little patch where I delighted in growing lettuce that were better than his, using out-of-date seed donated by a neighbour. Then came my much loved father-in-law (Eric) who knew so much and helped me clear my first grown-up veg patch right next to his in an old walled kitchen garden.

Inspirational – Eric and Gordon (with my then baby daughter Amy)

Gardening has stayed faithful to me in progressive moves from those Berkshire downland beginnings through five subsequent homes that only briefly took me away from my roots. For the past 12 years, I slipped over the county boundary into Wiltshire to put my stamp on the garden of a new-build home where I gained added space via an allotment. Gardening has also been a much needed escape in difficult times which I will come to in a blog one day soon.

Now, as I settle very contentedly into retirement, there is a new horticultural adventure to be had. My partner Jan and I have bought Flintstones, just a few miles from the sea at Colyton in East Devon. A nice house certainly. But it was the garden that really sold it for me – I fell for it utterly and completely and it has blown away all my reservations about having enough to do in my dotage.

Dorothy’s inspiration

I will tell the story of Dorothy Hewitt in one of the blogs that will follow. But briefly, she was the previous owner and it was she who had the vision to transform it from a grassy hillside into a tiered journey with paths that weave up past a waterfall and through cottage flowers and shrubs galore to the summer house at the top of the hill. It is a plantsman’s paradise – and Dorothy left every label in a brown envelope waiting for some idiot like me to come along and pick up her challenge.

Sadly, Dorothy died only a few years into her own gardening adventure. She left her home to a charity and it languished for two long and increasingly unkempt years before we came along. We spoke to other potential buyers who had viewed it, but no-one wanted the “work of that garden”. By the time we arrived it was a sad and overgrown place and the hillside was starting to slide as the timbers put in to hold it back rotted.

We are now nearly a year into the reclamation, and Dorothy ‘s vision is coming back – along with a few new tweaks of our own. We have held back the hillside, put in a proper man shed half way up the hill and cleared car loads of undergrowth to the tip. I have matched up most of Dorothy’s plant labels to the reality of what pushed its way through the jungle and I now recognise what a clever plantswoman she was.

While I have put in a couple of deep vegetable beds, this isn’t really a place for spuds and carrots. So a bit foolishly I also took on an allotment in an idyllic spot on a hillside overlooking this charming little town. But that’s another story for another day as I add blogs to this home built website.