Clare Mack­in­tosh

Like most things in life, gar­dens don’t have to be per­fect

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE - Clare Mack­in­tosh con­tact@claremack­in­t0sh www.claremack­in­tosh.com

When we left the Cotswolds we lived for a short time in a flat with­out a gar­den. Aside from my stu­dent days, it was, I re­alised, the first time I had lived with­out an out­side space, and I missed it ter­ri­bly.

I was never a gar­dener, but the abil­ity to sit out­side, or to wan­der in and out, or sim­ply to lean in an open door­way with a mug of morn­ing tea, were things I didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate un­til I no longer had them. I was for­tu­nate to grow up in a house with a gar­den – with play equip­ment, and trees to climb, and bor­ders full of flow­ers we weren’t sup­posed to tram­ple.

When my hus­band (then boyfriend) and I moved in to­gether it was to a tiny cot­tage with a grassy patch out back, where we sat out late and watched the stars, and later to a town house in Chip­ping Nor­ton, with a court­yard filled with pots I for­got to wa­ter. Back then a gar­den was a place to en­ter­tain. A place for can­dles in lanterns, neigh­bours and friends, and mu­sic played through speak­ers bal­anced on kitchen win­dow-sills. Bar­be­cues, wine, too many late nights.

I had gar­dens, but I was not a gar­dener, and I had none of my mother’s or my sis­ters’ pa­tience with plants. I was an in­stant sort of gar­dener, a bank-hol­i­day-mon­day-at-b&q sort of gar­dener, where forty quid and a cou­ple of hours’ work would trans­form a pa­tio with gar­ish, short-lived flow­ers. When the chil­dren were small we left our im­prac­ti­cal town house. We needed a gar­den, we re­alised. Some­where for the chil­dren to play, for the dog to run around. We in­her­ited a gar­den full of ma­ture shrubs – shrubs that (to my shame) I pulled out to cre­ate a big­ger lawn. A gi­ant tram­po­line dom­i­nated one side, and we squeezed in a deck for en­ter­tain­ing. Be­sides the gi­ant ley­landii we tol­er­ated only for the pri­vacy they gave us, and the grass, patchy from foot­ball, there were no plants. I didn’t care – I nei­ther needed nor wanted them. We grew some desul­tory salad for the res­i­dent slugs, and I oc­ca­sion­ally sprayed the rose by the front door, but oth­er­wise gar­den­ing was a twice yearly ac­tiv­ity of leaf-clear­ing, hed­getrim­ming, and half-hearted at­tempts at hang­ing bas­kets.

And then we moved. In the flat, I re­alised how I longed to be out­side. How I ached to feel dew be­neath my bare feet, and to rub mint leaves be­tween my fin­gers to bring the scent to my nose. I re­alised how I missed the smell of cut grass. Our new house – al­though af­ter 18 months it can hardly be called new – has large gar­dens front and back. Great swathes of lawn, sur­rounded by bor­ders I left un­touched for months be­cause I was too daunted to even be­gin.

Grad­u­ally I am tak­ing con­trol. I am cut­ting back clema­tis and hop­ing it re­turns (so far, so good), learn­ing to prune roses and di­vid­ing plants grown too big for their spots. My veg­eta­bles, grown in four large raised beds, are an

en­dur­ing ob­ses­sion: on a re­cent trip away I mes­saged my hus­band to ask how the spinach was. Fine, came the re­sponse. Do you want to chat to the kids? Yes, yes, I said, but have you checked be­neath

the leaves for eggs? I dead­head com­pul­sively, fre­quently get­ting into the car still clutch­ing a hand­ful of petals re­trieved on my way down the drive. I take my morn­ing tea into the gar­den and pinch out a cou­ple of weeds. Two hours later I’m still in my py­ja­mas, a pile of dan­de­lions at my side. I have dis­cov­ered the joy of pot­ter­ing: a word not in my lex­i­con be­fore I hit 40, yet now el­e­vated above ex­er­cis­ing or stay­ing out late and far, far above do­ing shots. I can – and do – pot­ter all day, gar­den­ing hav­ing sud­denly be­come, not a chore, but a treat. If you get this

chap­ter writ­ten by lunchtime, I’ll prom­ise my­self, you can start on

the hy­drangeas. I have stopped think­ing there’s so much to do in

this gar­den! and be­gun think­ing there’s so much I CAN do in this gar­den!

My en­thu­si­asm is tem­pered only by my lack of knowl­edge, but grad­u­ally I am mak­ing fewer mis­takes (I care­fully cul­ti­vated the pretty white flow­ers em­bel­lish­ing my bor­ders for some time, be­fore dis­cov­er­ing I was grow­ing bindweed) and learn­ing to be brave. If it doesn’t grow, said my sis­ter, her­self the owner of a beau­ti­ful gar­den, move it. Try it in dif­fer­ent places. If it still doesn’t grow, give up and grow some­thing else.

This ca­sual, suck-it-and-see ap­proach is ap­peal­ing to some­one like me, who has for years felt over­whelmed by gar­den­ing books and Chelsea Flower Shows. But if we avoided every en­deav­our be­cause pro­fes­sion­als did it bet­ter, we would never cook, never sing, never make fools of our­self on the dance floor. Like most things in life, gar­dens don’t have to be per­fect to bring us joy. Now, where did I put my se­ca­teurs?

ABOVE: I care­fully cul­ti­vated the pretty white flow­ers em­bel­lish­ing my bor­ders for some time, be­fore dis­cov­er­ing I was grow­ing bindweed

Clare’s third novel Let Me Lie, pub­lished by Sphere, is out. Book Four is on its way!

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