Clare Hast­ings on how her mother in­spired her love of gar­dening

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

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

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