Grandad’s Garden

It’s hard to imagine as I sit curled in the armchair by the window, contemplating a chai tea to warm up, that these photographs were only taken last Saturday, in what may well have been the last of the August sun. I spent what felt like hours lingering among the coneflowers and tomato plants, staying outside long after my grandparents had gone back inside. I could hear their laughter through the open window as I took photograph after photograph of the dahlias striving towards the sky, trying to capture their height and essence of the sublime. I laughed too, for it was one of those fleeting moments where one feels rooted in the present moment, consumed by joy in the here and now. This was Saturday afternoon in Fred’s little garden on the fringes of northwest London. 

I recently heard the words spoken “For what is joy if it is not recorded?” and the sentence made my heart quicken and flutter. For what is joy if it is not recorded, and what – the speaker went on – is love if it is not shared? So though I might ordinarily file these photographs away, wondering why on earth anyone else would want to see photos of my grandad’s patch on a ordinary summer noon, that adage made me think. I want to document that hazy, lazy afternoon. 

I love my grandfather’s garden and he loves it too. It’s his pride and joy, and beautiful in and of itself. But I also love it for all that it represents. Gardens are like that – such good metaphors, a novelist’s dream. For his garden represents so much about him: his persistence and precision, his way of doing things just so. His wartime thriftiness, nurturing cuttings from anything he finds, growing beauties from seed. His kindness, for I always leave with pockets weighed down by tomatoes and, sometimes, a seedling or two of my own to care for. His garden represents his good cheer, I like to think, in its riot of colour. There’s no colour scheme or grand plan – just what he likes, where he likes it. (Penstemon! Dahlias! Four varieties of tomato!) “Just a little bit, every day,” he tells me, that’s the secret of the prettiest gardens. And I think of that often, in gardening, and elsewhere: just a little, every day, and you’ll get there, whatever you’re aiming at. 

My grandfather is 86 and I like to think his garden is what keeps him young. It brings him so much joy, and my grandma too – something pretty to look at while I’m washing the dishes, she says. He’s growing me a hydrangea from a cutting in the shed, and sends me home with pocketfuls of tomatoes whenever I visit. It is always the first thing we do when I turn up to say hello – a turn around the garden, yes? Look at these busy lizzies! Aren’t the roses doing well? There’s rhubarb with stems as thick as a wrist, pink as bubblegum, and bonsai trees in china dishes as old as my twenty-three-year-old sister, dogged saplings rescued from underneath oak trees in the park when we were young. Joy, right here, in the buttered light cascading between green. Something magical, otherworldly, in the most ordinary suburb. That’s the spell of gardens, really. Casting wonder in the most unlikely of places. And this, here, is my joy recorded.

  • Beautifully written. And what a gorgeous garden!

  • This is so beautifully written! I would’ve loved the photos on their own, but adding the backstory of the garden gives me a better sense of appreciation of its presence.

    • Thanks Kate, that’s so lovely to hear! xx

  • I loved this. Reminds me a little of my Gran and her garden – every time I go over she has something new to show me (whether it’s the lettuce in the garden which we’ll eat with dinner, or the solar powered water fountain she found in Aldi, or the shoots appearing in the pot where she planted my sister’s wedding favour seeds <3). She's also a tomato grower (though the tomato plants are currently living indoors because it's been a cold summer here. It's a bit like Jumanji in her living room ha).

    Joy recorded, joy shared. Loved this line: Joy, right here, in the buttered light cascading between green. Beautiful


    • Thanks M – so nice to read your comment. Solar-powered water fountain from ALDI…sounds insane and amazing! 😉 I absolutely love the idea of seeds as a wedding favour. What a gorgeous idea. Filing away for someday. xx

  • Your grandfather has a really beautiful garden, Lulu! I love the little pops of pink and red in that abundantly verdant space. It’s wonderful that you can bond over the garden with him and marvel at how it’s coming along together – it’s the first thing my mum does when I’ve been away from home a while, too! I can’t wait to see your propagated hydrangea 🙂 xx

    • I love the colours too! And love that it’s what your mum does too. I was the same with my little garden before we moved home. Me too, it’s the second one (the first died…) so here’s hoping! xx

  • I feel like people really grow with their gardens! // I looove that adage. It makes me think about the flipside too. Do we have to share something beautiful for it to be real? But I guess that’s talking about a different situation where everyone feels like they need to share everything on social media. In this instance, I think it’s wonderful to record the joy and share the love 🙂 -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

  • Your grandfather’s garden is just beautiful! It’s one of my goals in life to eventually cultivate a garden of my own! xx