The two gardens
I hesitated when writing the two gardens in the title for this post, because perhaps one should say there was really one big garden, separated only by a fence, and also because the gardeners took care of the two plots in the same way. There used to be the front gardens, of course, even if they don't exist any more now, but these were hardly of any value even back in the times when the Aunties dug and sowed (I'm sure you immediately saw the reference!). To say that these two gardens were an esssential part of the life at n°7 and N°9 isn't enough saying. When one reads through Auntie Olive's letters, for example, the one subject which is inescapable is gardening, the state of the garden, the time of the year for this or that type of flowers, vegetable or fruit tree or fruit bush, etc. You might think the subject enabled a form of consensual chit-chat which filled the communication needs without needing to broach other less family-correct issues, but if it was, I'm certain that it also developped into a genuine field of interest which the Hughes especially loved. The Wood in the household rarely mentions gardening, but certainly she was involved in the final operations of the overall process.
So perhaps one might say there was a well-managed separation of the the tasks: Olive and Maud busied themselves with the production operations, Grandma was at her transformation unit, and everybody intervened in the consumption. The two older Aunties also had their own manufacturing units, because their larder was always full of the preserves which they praised and liked so much. The garden was, I think, especially important for Auntie Maud; the only photos we have of her are also photos connected with the garden, and the only sample of text that I have of her is something to do with "the daffs" which was directed to my mum, written at the bottom of one of Auntie Olive's letters. Here's the letter, rather interestingly typed until she couldn't fit the piece of paper into the typewriter and had to finish with ink!
Am I right to say that as the years went by, the garden shrank? I would like to document this idea with actual photos, but I think I recall that there was more lawn when I was a boy than later when I came back as an adult. Of course the childhood memory of the size of things has a tendency to picture them bigger than they really are, but there would also have been a good reason for the pasture to be reduced, and more land handed over to agriculture!
Now if I try and list what was grown in the two gardens of 7 and 9 Derwent, I'm sure I'm going to forget things: better informed people than myself would certainly do a more accurate job (Auntie Jo?). Here's what I remember. First the veg: potatoes, cabbages (Charles was fond of them), onions, radishes (I remember them very well, Grandma certainly kept them for us knowing we liked them so much), runner beans (I didn't use to understand why they were called that), and there was also the delicious long-leaved lettuce which was so different from home's "salade", whose numerous leaves were much wider and wrinkled.
Then the fruit: loganberries, gooseberries (fantastic taste) and probably other berries (straw, rasp and black), plums (probably various kinds).
Then the flowers and bushes: lavender, tulips, sweet peas (I helped Monsieur Père to fasten them on the fence strings one year, after we had gone to buy some "for Grandma"), the famed daffodils (see here), the big ferns which were near the sandpit, irises and gladioli, of course the roses ("English roses"?), which had been planted in the triangular forefront of Auntie Olive's garden, and which had such an amazing scent! Each time I came to stay, I would remember to go and visit them. Their perfume secretly merged with the pleasure of being back, with the Englishness of summer holidays, the blue sky above and the hot afternoons. So if today I'm such a lover of roses, it is undoubtedly because of those rosebushes in Auntie Olive's garden. Below, in this 1973 picture of Mark, you can actually see the labels on the rose-bushes!
I went through Auntie Olive's letters to look for more info, and found just what I needed: she mentions Maud's role, and a number of the garden's inhabitants (you'll see I've forgotten a number of them!):
The garden also meant a wealth of seasonal activities and obligations which are described in the letters I was mentioning: collecting and burning the leaves in autumn, covering the bulbs for the winter (I suppose they used straw or mulch of some sort), and cutting the dead stalks. In winter perhaps some scraping and preparing of the earth after the tidying up was over, then in Spring there must have been the planting of seedlings, the weeding, the spraying of trees and other such care (I have read about the thinning of some of the veg), and in Summer the mowing, the watering and of course the picking, washing, bottling of the produce.
I shouldn't forget one of the Aunties' great innovation of the later years: the compost! They probably had a sort of heap where they put their waste, but it was a big improvement when they had this compost box or whatever it was called just outside (or was it in the little outhouse next to the toilet?):
I'll finish off with a tribute to the gardener in chief, Auntie Maud, whose "company" was appreciated (), but more importantly who would be instrumental in solving the gardening issue!
And here's a pic where we can see Monsieur Père gardening in the background:
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