Bragging Rights – or – How I Learned to Stop Being a Stupid Kid and Love Gardening

Helen and I say we come from “a long line of gardeners” and it’s true: our bragging rights. Our grandmother Ethel Espley won the cup in 1964 for having the best garden in her town in Wales. But did this have one iota of effect on me at the time? Did I think it was a great accomplishment? No. Not when I was a kid anyway. Gardens were there. They looked ok. It was the kind of thing old people messed about with, for some reason. End of story.

As a 20 year old, I spent a few hours weeding my Gran’s garden. She showed me what to leave in and what to take out. Grass mostly. And I weeded – probably didn’t do a very good job though. I pulled out tufts of grass, badly, incompletely, and probably pulled out a few things I shouldn’t have.

In my teens I worked in a department store downtown. My mother lived in Stouffville and commuted every day to the same department store. She had a lovely garden and used to bring me amazing, huge bunches of fresh flowers from her garden. It was nice. I was happy to have them. But I didn’t appreciate them. Not the way I would now. Back then I really didn’t know a delphinium from a daisy. And there were probably both in the bunch, and lots more besides. I took it all for granted, and had no idea of the blood sweat and tears that went into that newspaper-wrapped bundle.

It’s sort of like fish and water. They don’t notice it while they are swimming in it. They don’t have to. However the day they get pulled onto a boat by a fisherman at the end of a line, they definitely take notice. They suddenly appreciate the fact that water exists. And how much it affects their gills.

In a slightly less drastic fashion, that seems to be the way that gardeners are made. As time went on, my living in the inner city started to make me crave green things. I knew something was missing – or my gills knew. I started out with houseplants, then a roof garden, and little by little I became a gardener.

Kids just don’t get it. They can’t. I wonder sometimes – when I’m dragging my kid through the garden centre, or pointing out something in the garden – if they one day will find gardens less tiresome. A trip to England in July with the kids (my 14 year old son, Helen’s 15 year old daughter) will involve a stately garden tour or two. How horrible will it be for them? How many groans and complaints will there be? I’m sure there will be a few; but perhaps something will rub off, some view, some vista or other will make an impression on them. Something that might come to feel like water: necessary. Who knows?

All I know right now is how much I would love to have a time machine so I could step into my Grandmother’s garden in 1964!


  1. It’s literally “long lines”, plural. Though Gran was the flower gardener, her mother’s family were farmers for over 400 years in Shropshire and her father’s family for even longer on the Isle of Man. Our mother’s paternal side holds generations of farmers, too — though pork was their specialty. On t’other side of the family, our father’s paternal line in Lancashire were only two generations removed from the land. In short, you don’t have to go too far back in our family tree to find its roots growing in the soil.

  2. No they actually really liked the gardens. Although they tended to get tired before we did!

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