What was a typical day in the Garden of my beautiful Grandparents in Suffolk like? I am lucky enough to remember it because every week she sends me photographs of her garden, past and present, with a letter that reignites some hilarious memory of Sophie and I being with them both.
Let’s imagine it’s 1995.
Grandma politely ordered Grandad to get the wooden rectangular box he’d built for Sophie and I down from the rooftop of his workshop, and fill it up to the brim with sand.
With buckets and spades in our hands, Sophie and I managed to excitedly take off our clothes all the way down to our age 3 and 5 knickers and sit submerged with our imaginations somewhere on a desert island, as Grandma relaxed watching with a contented smile from the comforts of her retro lounger. We would often highjack this bouncy lounger when we were exhausted from all the fun.
It seems now, from memory, to always have been sunny in Grandma’s garden. Grandma is the feeling of waking up and opening the curtains, seeing that the sky is blue as the sun blazes into your eyes and you hear the morning chorus through the slightly opened window that’s funnelling in a warm breeze, and you smile because this is you feeling Summer. Grandma, with her smile alone, can give you that feeling; she is Summertime all year round.
As we played in her garden, we would hear Grandad rummaging away from the confines of his work shop, clattering metal here and there, building Toby the ancient tortoise’s Winter shelter ready for his 6 month hibernation.
Grandma, seizing the opportunity where the location of Grandad’s whereabouts could be confirmed, would sneak away to get us a choc-ice from the freezer, which we’d enjoy alongside approximately 6 bags of Worcester Sauce flavoured crisps, 3 Time Outs, and a dozen crackers with squirty cream cheese to top it all off.
She’d then disappear over to the rugged rabbit hutch, which was home to an unapproachable looking rabbit. I think Grandma must have caught this creature on the farm and taken it hostage as punishment for nibbling away at her lettuces. It was brown and wild, the kind of rabbit you often see on long Suffolk walks through the woods, and it now had to entertain two wild children.
With her delicate hands, Grandma took this rabbit (aptly named Bunny) from the corner that he’d tried to camouflage himself into in the hope that Grandma’s hands wouldn’t reach, but with that grip of the pig farmer she once was Bunny was soon affectionately huddled tightly, inescapably, in her arms. This rabbit was a gorgeous little brown fur of feral fun that found a place in our hearts as “Grandma’s rabbit”, and would run around the perimeters of our sand pit with no attempt at escape.
Then, one day, wild Bunny died. But Grandma replaced Bunny with two new rabbits, white ones, as nonchalantly as you would a goldfish when you replace them quickly hoping your children don’t realise their pets dead. When we realised bunny was white and had been duplicated, she told Sophie and I, as we ate dinner, that Bunny was on our plate. Hilarious, I thought. Sophie, however, cried a lot. Grandma has a cracking sense of humour.
Grandma and Grandad would often take Sophie and I into one of their many greenhouses to help with the watering of their Botanical Garden load of plants.
In this glass house, there also lived a little frog amongst the most delicious of smelling tomato vines. Something about the heat in this green house set off a spiciness and earthy smell, which if green could be described as a smell, this greenhouse was it. There were thermometers, brightly coloured flowers in terracotta pots scattered over every shelf, tin watering cans hidden in every crevice, tatty pairs of hard workers gardening gloves hanging in the corner, and now a saucer for frog to cool down in. It was a greenhouse that greenhouse dreams were made of.
Grandma still uses her thermometers in this green house to record the temperature outside when she’s sitting under her hair dryer, with a Baileys or three in her coffee, writing me a letter with her garden photos already in the envelope.
Grandma took the most admirable pride in her colourful gardens with seasonal flowers that used to line the pathway to the charred pig farm, and she still does, just to a lesser extent now that she’s Grandad’s full-time carer.
There were pots by the steps to the pathway with purple flowers in that Sophie and I would pop before they had the chance to flower, and a trellis of roses at the very back of the garden that bloomed bright in the summer and looked almost translucent in the evening dusk next to the old apple tree. As you can see, into her mid-70s and still as fit as a fiddle, she still takes pride in her beautiful garden.
Just in front and to the left of that green house is an infamous Apple Tree. We used to climb, swing and hang from this tree’s branches, as Grandma, with a style she adopted as a photographer in post-war Britain, crouched down to get an artistic angle and snap away until her 35mm film ran out.
This Apple Tree is now pride of place amongst Grandad’s vegetable patch. He recently uprooted his patch closer to the back door of the bungalow and downsized from the acres of farming he once had at the top of the pig farm. He has Parkinsons and dementia now so it makes it difficult for him to get to the fields where he used to harvest his potatoes, pick off the sweet peas and green beans from their stalks, protect his rows of strawbs from the pesky rabbits, and protect a dozen chickens and their eggs from the prying foxes.
But he still has enough beans and cobs growing under the Apple Tree to keep his and Grandma’s plate topped up with homegrown goodness, it’s just getting smaller every year.
Opposite this apple tree, before Grandad’s veggie patch took over, Grandma had the most beautiful purple buddleia along the garden fence. It attracted white winged butterflies in the hundreds, and Sophie and I mastered the art of catching them. We cupped our hands delicately around them without touching their wings and we would wait for them to latch onto our palms.
How filled with delight we were when we could open our hands to set the butterfly free and we could feel the little patter of butterfly feet on our finger tips. More so, how filled with delight Grandma was when she watched us catching these creatures! So much so, one Saturday Grandma joined in and got so enthused at the idea she clapped her hands over one, just as it took off, and squashed it there on the spot. She felt terrible.
As the day in the garden drew to a close, Grandma would bathe us and feed us dinner, before settling us all in for a night. We would cuddle up in the arms of either grandparent and watch Dad’s Army, National Lottery, and then Casualty before being read a story in bed.
The best memories really are made with Grandparents.