Guest blogger Deborah Catchpole writes about her early and formative gardening experiences…

I’m a gardener. There; I’ve said it. It’s not always the first thing that a 28 year old is willing to admit, but for me, it’s something that has come to define who I am – or at least a huge part of who I am. Considering the upbringing that I had, it is perhaps unsurprising that I would have turned out to be a gardener.

Enjoying the gardens at Capel Manor

Enjoying the gardens at Capel Manor

When we were children, there was never any doubt about where we would find mum or dad at the weekends – they would always be in the garden. This isn’t a complaint – don’t get me wrong, we had plenty of holidays, and they spent huge amounts of time with us, but mum and dad would snatch every spare moment in the garden. During the summer months, when dad would come home from work, they would take a walk around the garden together – she would be showing him the work that she had done in the garden during the day, and they would just spend time enjoying the garden that they had built together. They have about half an acre – some of which is lawn, but most of it is flower beds, with a chunk of very productive vegetable garden. When we were younger there were fruit cages too – it was a marking of the end of summer when we would be called out onto the front lawn to all take a section of the fruit nets for the complicated rolling and tying of the nets, to put into storage for the next year – we worked as a family, as a team.

I have one sister – she’s older than me, and we’ve always been very lucky to get on well. I wonder whether this is down to the luck of the draw, or whether maybe it has to do with the fact that we had to get on, to do the jobs that we were given in the garden. We each had a section of garden which was ours, to do with what we wanted – I remember that mine had a small holly bush in it, and we both had an acer which was ours, and we still refer to them as ours, now that they are huge, and take up a large section of the front border. In addition to our own patches of garden, we also helped mum and dad with the harvesting of the vegetables – they would pick hundreds of peas and beans throughout the summer, and we would sit either in the garden, or in the sitting room, watching neighbours with a saucepan in our laps, or the ancient blue plastic colander and shuck peas – this was a favourite job of mine – eating them as I went – nothing like the taste of freshly picked peas, and chewing the pods too. Beans were a messier job – the initial excitement of the soft velvety interior of the pod, replaced by the black staining on your hands! All of the peas and beans, and then the fruit too, got bagged up and frozen, and we feasted on it throughout the rest of the year. The main point of this time spent, didn’t register in my mind as being important for self-sufficiency, or for the money that it must have saved my parents in providing us with good, nutritious food from our own garden, but more for the time spent together, the memories that we were forging.

My courtyard

My courtyard

Another thing that I particularly remember, was the sowing of seedlings. Not only does my mum always plant hundreds of seeds for plants for their own garden every year, but when we were at primary school, they used to run a plant stall every year at the school fete – so she would borrow neighbours’ greenhouses, and fill our own, and the cold frames to the gunnels with tiny plants which she would sell for charity. All of these seeds had to start from somewhere though, and there were many hours spent by her side in the greenhouses, helping to fill seed trays with compost, or watering in the new seeds, and then weeks later, pricking out the thousands of tiny green seedlings – I never knew what they would turn into, but she knew what they all were – she could tell from the shape of the leaves. I expect much of this time was spent with me chattering away, and her working alongside me, but I like to think I helped a little bit!

Even then, I would never have thought I enjoyed gardening, I would have seen it as time spent with mum and dad. It was only years later when I lived at university when we had a scrubby, rat infested yard in our student house in Liverpool – but we spent a day clearing out the flowerbeds, and planting sunflowers. I realised that there was something hugely satisfying about making something from nothing.

When I moved into my own house, the bug really hit me, I realised that what I enjoyed most about gardening, wasn’t even the finished article, it was the act of gardening itself. Six years on, and I find that every spare moment I have, I want to be out in the garden. The inevitable has happened, I have turned into my parents, I have turned into a gardener, and I couldn’t be happier.

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