Children & gardens


Rowan fruit

While walking round the major gardens, such as those of the RHS, there’s plenty of opportunity to observe my fellow humans. The parent-child situations generally arouse the strongest of emotions.

Three things I have enjoyed:  1) a bitter morning with slushy snow, and a father crouches down to explain the snow-caught prints of birds’ feet to his enraptured daughter; 2) a child who gathers dandelions from a grassy path to take home to her father; 3) a child totally excited by the lush foliage and flowers of the American skunkweed (Lysichitum americanus). Obviously a new window had opened in the child’s imagination.

Three things I hate: 1) parents who call a child away from something the child finds interesting, using the words “come away, it’s poisonous” (generally, it isn’t); 2) parents who take no interest in the object of a child’s fascination with a plant, preferring to call the child away with the promise of ice-cream; 3) those who provide a lecture that displays their expertise, but don’t notice the child becoming bored and resentful. By the way – not having children I am a perfect parent.

Finally, the most amusing incident ever. This took place in the fenced yin-yang garden (within the herb garden) at the RHS garden at Wisley a few years ago. Three small children are tearing round this fenced garden. Mother calls them out with “come away, those plants are poisonous!”. The garden is immediately entered by two young boys, one of whom pees on the pebbles. Mother calls them out and hustles them away. Two further children quickly enter the garden and play with the just peed-on pebbles whilst their mother watches approvingly.

Now, thinking back to early childhood and the plants that first entered my consciousness. These include a rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia). This is an enormous tree to stand under when you’re pint-sized, and the lush clusters of fruit are magic. I have always planted a rowan tree in my gardens. Then there’s silvered, fairy-money pods of honesty at our neighbour’s door (Lunaria annua), and a rich pink rose (Rosa ‘Dorothy Perkins’ probably) that tumbled over the fence and is the prototype for that dream garden that is still an aspiration. These early memories and their family associations provide a direct, be-jewelled link from that distant past to the present fabric of my life.

Rosa Dorothy Perkins_C

Rosa ‘Dorothy Perkins’

You may just use a garden as a safe place to meet friends for a gossip whilst the children are allowed to run wild. BUT, if there’s emotional space and time to enter the clarity and wonder of a child’s perception, you may be planting a deep seed. That seed may grow to become an inheritance, one that entwines your life with that far distant future which lies beyond your physical presence.

Susan A. Tindall


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