To begin at the beginning…. I grew up in suburban north London, where houses had medium sized gardens and it always seemed to me that everyone liked to work with plants. I was one of five children so our own garden was fairly functional, though there were always flowers and apple trees and berries.
But across the road my father had developed an “allotment” on a bomb site. I was born in 1943 and in the late ‘40s and ‘50s London there were many patches of ground where bombs had obliterated houses and left behind bare earth. Our allotment grew every imaginable vegetable and was surrounded by steep banks where blackberries, raspberries and loganberries were trained. My father loved to work there early in the mornings before going up to Whitehall where he had his real job. We often played and climbed trees there and were always co-opted into picking fruit when it was in season.
My grandmother lived nearby and had a large garden of perhaps half an acre. This contained everything from lawns and perennial borders to an extensive rockery, vegetables, a bluebell orchard and a hill covered in daffodils in the spring. All this was surrounded by shrubs and trees that contained magical paths and hiding places. Perhaps this background can give you an impression of why I grew up assuming that wherever I lived I would have some kind of a garden?
After school and university (my undergraduate degree was in English Literature and my MA in Social Anthropology) I acted for a while and also taught. There were months in film studios in Rome and acting stints in London theatres. This was not exactly a life with much time for gardening. But in my mid-twenties I came to the USA and taught at the Woodstock Country School (now defunct) in S. Woodstock, Vermont. A year in the USA turned into two years and I was teaching at the Dalton School in NYC when I met my husband, Tim…. who owned an old cape in southern NH. That house, with a view of Mount Monadnock in the distance, was my first real garden.
A weekend gardener, I learned about the short New England season, with plants like blood root and wildflowers like trailing arbutus in the lawn and discovered that here one has to honor the climate and accept that some plants will simply not thrive. My forsythia only flowered on the lower branches that had been buried in snow, and an attempt at wisteria flourished – but never blossomed. Roses somehow never seemed to do well. But I grew asparagus from seed brought over from a family garden and grew the fattest stalks you could imagine! Gardening was always an exciting adventure.