15 June 2013

For Da

Are you familiar with those 'interviews' in magazines where someone more or less well known is asked a set of questions? You know the ones: who would you invite to your ideal dinner party; when were you happiest, and so on... I don't know about you, but I sometimes play the game of how I'd answer. In gardening magazines, one of the questions is invariably something like 'What's your earliest garden memory?' For me, it's the taste of a strawberry, still warm from the sun, exploding into a song of sweetness in my mouth. It was my Da who grew that first strawberry of my memory, picked it when it was warmed by the morning sun, and who wanted his (then very small) daughter to relish it. It seemed magical to me then and in a sense it still does - that first burst of summer sweetness on the tongue: each year when that happens, I remind myself that strawberries are the best fruit in the garden.

And then a couple of weeks later, I taste the raspberries and realise that no, they're the best.

And then I make some loganberry jam and I think, no hang on...

Such dilemmas; such an embarrassment of riches, all in a small plot.

And all, ultimately, thanks to my Da. It was he, no doubt about it, who passed on his love of growing things, and his delight in nature in fields and farms and forests, and in our own back garden. It was he who brought us all on walks through woods and along beaches, where we'd spend what seemed like hours peering into rockpools, watching scurrying crabs and trying to catch 'pinkeens'. It was he who always had a hammer in the boot of his car, and a pair of old boots, so that if he ever found himself on the back of the right mountain, he might try his luck at finding fossils or quartz or calcite crystals. It was he who'd be found on a summer's afternoon sitting on an old sugán stool in the back garden methodically picking red currants to make into jelly for mid-winter feasts, or to eat straight away with fresh cream and pavlova, their tartness upping the ante on their sugary companions. It was he who proudly grew his first greenhouse tomatoes in his fifties, and then one year grew ornamental gourds too, just to see what they were like. It was he who never walked his lawn without his penknife ready to carefully prise out any daisy or dandelion foolish enough to take its chances.

It's not yet three years since Da died, after a very long and very difficult illness. I still think of him every day, never more so than when I'm in the garden. When I'm carefully unweaving the bittercress from the Irish moss, I think of Da and the lawn. When I'm picking raspberries or strawberries from the garden, and later making jam, I think of him doing just the same, the summer kitchen air thick with the aroma of cooking berries.  When I'm pinching out the side-shoots of the tomatoes, when I'm grappling with the thorny stems of loganberries, when I pick sage and chives and parsley and lettuce, when I see the Welsh poppies jollying up the garden, when I marvel at the daffodils in the spring, or the haws and sloes in the autumn hedgerows, I think of him.

What a lucky daughter to have had such a father.

The last place Da sat in my garden, one of his favourite spots. Note the yellow Welsh poppy! 
This year's strawberries, still to come ...
A Pelargonium in my greenhouse; I grow them in memory of Da who loved them (and the brighter the better)

I still love to mess about in rock pools. A small crab claw and a sketch I did this week.
Happy Father's Day to any dads reading this.

Have a good week all.


  1. Erica, Lovely post--thanks for sharing your memories! For me, it was my grandmother who loved her garden and inspired me to love mine. Btw, the crab claw is beautiful.

  2. Janene, thank you! I think in every gardener there are memories of a dear mentor, either in their family or elsewhere.