Clare Hastings on how her mother inspired her love of gardening
THIS WAS TAKEN in about 1953 at a wild-flower meadow near my parents’ cottage in Aldworth on the Berkshire Downs. And I think, judging by the flowers, it’s July. My father, who took the picture, was a war correspondent called Macdonald Hastings and I remember being in that rather grand car in the background, a Humber Super Snipe.
I’m about three and Max is about nine. He looks as though he’s wearing his school uniform but is on a weekend out – he boarded at Horris Hill in Newbury, a school he hated. But whenever he was home I was always the younger sister following him around, watching his antics in horror. If he’d watched a cowboy film he’d jump out of a window. And my father was very haphazard with firearms so Max was allowed to play with all sorts of things that nowadays children would never be allowed near.
My mother, the journalist Anne Scott-james, bought the cottage for £500 at auction while she was at Oxford University. It was considered a lot of money then. It had no electricity and no water, it was just a two-up two-down, but she bought it because of its location and the garden. She absolutely adored gardening. As a child, she went to St Paul’s Girls’ School where they gave them little gardening plots, and she became besotted.
At this point my mother was the women’s editor of the Sunday Express (she had been editor of Harper’s Bazaar and women’s editor of Picture Post). Every Friday, religiously, we would go down to the country (my parents rented a house on the Cromwell Road during the week) and we’d be left there for the holidays while my mother would go and work in London. She was a career woman and didn’t spend a lot of time with us, so we were brought up by Jessie, an ancient nanny who came from Sheffield: she was sort of a surrogate mother.
The cottage and the garden were my mother’s passion – she filled it with roses, hollyhocks, helianthum and honeysuckles. Later in life gardening became very much a second career for her – she wrote a book on cottage gardening and on Sissinghurst, and was a judge at the Chelsea Flower Show.
When I was 22, I bought the cottage next door. We were connected by a hedge, so my daughter and dogs would go to and fro – and I still live in the same cottage. I always hoped that my mother would come and do the garden for me, but she never did – she was more likely to visit and say, ‘Oh my God, you planted it there...’ She was known for her acerbic wit.
Max [a former editor of The Daily Telegraph ]is also now besotted with gardening; if he’s not writing, he will be gardening. He’s created a wildflower meadow and works in the garden from first light to dusk, making sure everything is mulched, trimmed and pruned. My mother always said that a love of gardening is the only thing that connected our dysfunctional family.
—Interview by Francesca Ryan Gardening Notes from a Late Bloomer, by Clare Hastings (Pimpernel Press, £12.99)
My mother would visit my garden and say, ‘Oh my God, you planted it there...’ She was known for her acerbic wit
Clare Hastings (centre), flanked by her older brother Max, and her mother