Today the 28th January 2018 is the 25th anniversary of Arthur’s passing. I had the privilege along with an old friend of his (Iris Baker) to be at his bedside when he took his final breath at 14.20.
Where has that quarter century gone? What would he think of my journey in life since his passing?
The first question I can answer easily. Following his death, Philip and I worked tirelessly to restore the neglect, rejuvenate and replant his garden. When two years after his passing in 1993, his son sold the bungalow in which Arthur lived, we fenced a decent garden around the property and took responsibility for the remaining land…approximately eight acres.
The property was edged on three sides by woodland in varying depths (the north and west originally planted as a shelterbelt), the southern boundary encompassed a bluebell wood and a bog garden – later developed into a pond.
When Arthur and his wife Grace (Gay) first came to Orchards, it was scrubland that hadn’t been cultivated for five decades or more. Here, whilst building their own wooden house (two up/two down), with cedar shingle roof, they began to plant a garden. Apple, pear and cherry orchards were planted (hence the name – originally called The Orchards), along with a vast vegetable garden and a fruit garden. However, in those early days, pre-war and after, the planting of ornamental trees and shrubs, was already taking place. Thousands of daffodils were planted, throughout the front garden and along the western and northern sides. Many I know disappeared beneath the ever-expanding conifers over the years.
What visions they had for the garden, went unspoken. It has been written that Arthur, on seeing the plot and standing on the cusp of the south-facing slope said ‘If you think I am making a garden here you’ve another think coming’. But make a garden he did. Wooden sheds were built on the west boundary parallel to the house, where goats were kept and milked; and apples and vegetables were stored in the winter months. Hens and ducks were also housed in triangle-shaped arks nearby. At one point Gay bred rabbits for meat and I remember as a child seeing the skins stretched on wooden boards, pinned and left drying in the sun.
We took on a garden with fewer orchards, and they were only apple orchards, no vegetable garden or fruit garden and two solitary pear trees, which despite the years of neglect and further inaction on our part, still bore fruit. I worked fulltime in the garden and continued with the nursery that I had opened just a few months before Arthur’s death, closing as soon as the doctor had told me the severity of his symptoms. Looking after him in those final months, though stressful was a privilege. I wrote a poem about that experience in my first collection of poetry called Where My Heart Is.
We continued with our work and following a meeting with the local organizer of the National Gardens Scheme, we opened the garden the following year. Within a few years, the garden had been recommended and accepted for The Good Gardens Guide, where it remained up until we sold up and moved away.
So what would Arthur have thought about my journey? I was assured by several of his colleagues, that he was immensely proud of my endeavours when I first opened my nursery on the east boundary of the garden.
I spoke to Robin Lane Fox on the evening of the 28th January, and it was he who first asked if we were going to open the garden to the public. He had made a pact with Arthur that neither would visit each other’s garden whilst they worked together. Robin was the gardening columnist for the Saturday Financial Times, as well as being a contributor to other magazines and an author. He has over the years been a staunch supporter of Arthur and his books. When I published The Haphazard Gardener Robin was kind enough to give it a review in the Saturday Financial Times. I think that Arthur would have been enormously proud of that.
Both of my parents would have understood the necessity for us to sell up once the garden became too much for me. They knew only too well what an onerous task it was.