Brian dug for victory. The lawns and flower borders disappeared. The invasion of potatoes, cabbages and onions began. ‘Soil for the stomach,’ became his mantra. It was in those lean times that he became a master at producing giant vegetables. ‘Making the most of sun, earth and water,’ he told his nodding neighbours. Wanting to do his bit, he freely gave away most of his prodigious produce to nearby hungry families. In the post-war years he became famous in the local circle for his prize marrows and leeks. He was awarded many cups and rosettes and his sisters made sure he was buried with several of them.
A retired army officer called Teddy returned the garden to its floral state. With his wife Vera under his command, they grew regimented rows of Salvia, Antirrhinum and Delphinium. Enemy weeds were instantly repelled and every plant knew its place and orders. But, after Teddy’s fatal heart-attack in the Dahlias, Vera let the garden be at ease. The weeds, which had lost many battles, finally won the war. Vera became very fond of gin and made a great drinking friend in Marge from the WI. From that time onwards, the only thing that really blossomed in Vera’s life was Marge; sweet, fragrant Marge.
Come the Summer of Love, the garden had pretty much gone native. Where once stood Lupin and Heliopsis, there was now Cow Parsley, Wild Carrot and Teasle. And this being the Age of Aquarius, it was freely embraced in that state by Sandra and Tony. They had no intention of denying the natural rights of woodbine, brambles and ivy. The shed became Sandra’s meditation retreat and Tony cultivated his favourite weed in the greenhouse. All in all, the garden was a great place for communal love-ins and naked freak-outs. Concerned neighbours felt some private relief when Sandra and Tony both suffered a string of bad acid trips and had to move to an institution with an even bigger, but tidier garden.
In moved Ronald, a young Anglican clergyman, his mind firmly fixed upon the devil and all his works. He had no vision of transforming the garden into Eden anew. Like Adam’s fallen race, nature itself had been twisted and deformed by sin and there wasn’t much sense in trying to rectify that with secateurs and a spade. Actually, stinging nettles and tearing thorns were to be encouraged, reminding tea-drinking guests of the vile corruption done to God’s creation through man’s rebellious transgressions. It was the constant promotion of such undiluted theology that led to Ronald’s own expulsion from the garden, the bishop moving him on to a quieter, country parish.
During the reign of three consecutive families, the greenery was generally deemed more of a nuisance than a delight and hacked back to the edges. In came timbered patios, barbeque pits, crazy-paving and a pebbled drive. What was left of the lawn, after years of mis-use and neglect, was eventually replaced by artificial turf. The plum trees were felled and replaced by a concrete base for a trailer-caravan; and the pond was filled-in, so that a hot tub could be erected. Trampolines, paddling pools and rabbit hutches occupied the rest of the encroaching dead space. Once the last family had gone, it took all the remaining energy of an ex-school mistress to help nature reinstate itself within the garden. She laughed to her daughters that the garden would probably ‘see her off, early doors’, and it did.
In Jerry’s time, the garden was less of a private place and more like a park, especially for the neighbourhood children. The gate was always open and the garden was often filled with the joyful sounds of youngsters climbing trees, playing hide and seek and making daisy-chains. Jerry helped them to construct dens and, once inside, the children would get close as he told them wondrous stories from his imagination. One evening, when a mother was reading to her child ‘The Selfish Giant’, she was told by her little girl that there was a man at number thirty-seven who also had a lovely garden and liked to share it with little children. Later in the week, Jerry had to answer the door to two officers of the law who asked many questions and made him hand over his computer. Thereafter, the gate was shut and bolted.
Now arrives Jane, escaping the city and the divorce. The garden is in full bloom, though somewhat disordered. Jane holds her hips and surveys the mess; she shakes her head, but is optimistic. She feels that with a little time and TLC, the garden will be able to regenerate and probably look better than ever it did before. Her first job is to clear out the shed. Ridding it of cobwebs and rusted tools, she replaces them with her paints, brushes and blank canvasses. Satisfied with that, she takes a relaxed walk around the garden, breathing deeply the green; refreshing her senses on Willowherb, Foxglove and Honeysuckle. And finding, in the most abandoned corner, as though emerging from hiding, Forget-me-not and Selfheal.
john e.c. is the editor for Flash Fiction North, which is devoted to publishing shorter fiction and poetry.