It’s not one of my granny days. But I happen to be walking past my daughter and son-in-law’s front door – one of the plusses of living round the corner from each other – and knock on the door.
There is no answer so I go round the back. Even though we are so close, both physically and emotionally, I still feel a bit awkward about popping in without giving due warning. I don’t want to invade their space.
“Look Gan Gan!” chirps my three-year-old granddaughter Rose. “Mummy and I are doing some gardening.”
So they are. Rose is looking rather grubby and very cheerful. My daughter is looking lovely as ever but slightly flustered. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she say, rubbing her hand across her forehead and leaving a streak of dirt. “I bought this tool to dig holes in the soil but it doesn’t seem to be working. The earth just slips through.”
Rose puts her hands on her hips. “We are trying to plant flowers,” she says. “You can help us if you like, Gan Gan!”
Now it has to be said here that I did not inherit my own mother’s green fingers. They went to my sister. But it’s not for want of trying on my part.
So I get down on my hands and knees with my daughter’s new tool and together we dig holes for the tray of petunias which she has just bought at the market.
“How can I tell they’re petunias and not geraniums?” asks my daughter.
“You just sort of do,” I say. “They’ve got a different kind of flower.”
It occurs to me that I might have missed out an important lesson in my daughter’s education. I can’t ever remember teaching her about plants or even encouraging her to garden.
How awful of me! Maybe it’s because I was so busy juggling with three children and a freelance writing career. But it’s no excuse. After all, my mother did it.
I think back to my own childhood…
I still remember the thrill when my parents gave me a small corner of our garden in the leafy Harrow suburb where I grew up during the late fifties and sixties. This patch was my pride and joy! I sowed Sweet William, Lilies Of The Valley and Forget Me Nots and it seemed like pure magic when they came up.
I also pressed wildflowers and knew every name – in fact they play an important part in my new novel I Looked Away, which comes out at the end of June.
In fact, I had more gardening success as a child than I’ve had as an adult.
Maybe that’s why I didn’t encourage my children to garden. But it occurs to me that I can make up for it now with my grandchildren. Indeed, I’m beginning to think that this is partly what granny-hood is about. You can get things right second time round!
“Look!” I explain to my little granddaughter. “You dig a hole like this, pour some water in and then lift the plug of the plant from the tray.”
She frowns. “But plugs go in the bath.”
Once more, I marvel at the idiosyncrasies of the English language. In fact it’s a miracle that any child gets to grips with it.
“You’re right,” I say. “This is a different kind of plug. It’s made up of the roots.”
“Does that mean we can take them into the bath with us?” asks Rose.
“No,” chorus her mother and me.
Our hard work pays off…
We keep going. By the end of the afternoon, the border looks really neat. George, meanwhile, races round the garden and attempts to sabotage our work.
It reminds me of the time when my eldest son, then 18 months, snapped the heads off my newly-bloomed garden tulips. At the time, it seems like a disaster. But now it’s become one of those family stories. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?
The same son is now a fine 34-year-old man known as Uncle Wow because the babies think he’s so wonderful. When Rose was born, he gave her a cherry tree which stands in the corner of the garden. Now Rose is busy watering it. One day, that will be pretty big. Perhaps Rose’s own children might play under it. Maybe this is what’s meant by the circle of life! My eyes moisten a little at the thought.
Maybe gardening is part of the circle of life. We have to learn how to separate weeds from plants. And we have to pass on lessons and experiences in life, whether it’s learning how to spell new names or how to treat others kindly.
“May I have a little garden of my own?” asks Rose.
“Of course,” says my daughter. “Perhaps Gan Gan can help us.”
It might be the blind leading the blind but I’ll have a go. I’m off to buy a wildflowers guide and a notebook to press our spoils in.
It could be the perfect granny/grandchild summer project!
Meanwhile, I’m off to interview the author Ann Cleeves. That’s what I love about my life. It’s never the same from one day to the next…