An English garden inspired by her father teaches a child some important life lessons, and is recreated at her adult home in Texas.
By Gillian Burns
“An English garden is an Englishman’s peace and quiet.” So the saying goes. It’s a place where Mother Nature casts her will and sows her uninterrupted desires – a place where we merely lend a hand at the height of her busy season. And we are no more than that: Nature’s helpers, useful instruments who stand ready to follow her seasonal rules. Beyond the shores of my England, garden sanctuaries of “peace and quiet” are found in more formidable climates and terrain. Others flourish precariously on balconies of the world.
Stocks, wallflowers, and snapdragons celebrate the arrival of England’s high summer. In an unruly common garden, they burst forth with a spectacular performance of color and beauty. Their glory captivates a gaze, or a steals a gasp, from all who pass by. There are neither neat cultivated rows, nor freshly hoed flower beds. Where the wind allows a seed to rest, there it will grow.
“This is your piece of the garden,” my father told us one rainy morning as we stood by the back fence of our North Yorkshire home staring at the muddy, weed-infested ground. My brother and I were each given a corner of the garden to sow, reap, harvest, or simply leave fallow. “It’s yours; you can do whatever you want.” My father’s remarks were casual, yet deeply formative as he handed me responsibility for that plot of land and a creative freedom at age seven that I’d never experienced before.
Eager to grow and harvest, I built wooden seed boxes in the garage during that winter’s dark, cold months. Young seedlings were transferred to our respective corners as soon as spring melted winter’s last frost. The chores of weeding, watering, and hoeing were endless.
“Patience,” my father instilled in us, as we learned to follow the rhythm of nature’s seasons and respect the earth and the life it gives. I marvelled at the new shoots of life we had nurtured weeks earlier. Those fragile specks of seeds miraculously transformed themselves into proud displays of everything the picture on the packet promised. At harvest time, a celebration dinner welcomed my homegrown carrots, lettuces, and radishes to the table and my first bunch of chrysanthemums filled a vase on the kitchen window sill.
On my eighth birthday, my father handed me his gift with a smile – The Gardener’s World. I hugged the book tightly, elated with all the promises its glossy photos held. I delved into a world of gardens which went far beyond my corner plot. Armed with the bursting inspiration of a child, I awaited spring that year with impatient dreams.
My father taught me many valuable lessons from that small corner plot of land. They were life lessons with values and standards he hoped I would live by: responsibility for all you sow, respect for life and our environment, hard work and patience.
Thirty years on and I am far from the shores of my homeland. I have carried the lessons learned from that small piece of English land on my many travels around this world. My transplanted roots have found their home in Texas where I’ve recreated a piece of that childhood garden. Austin’s mild winters and long summers allow my English garden an almost endless season to blossom and thrive year round. Warm evenings unfold the white petals of a fragrant jasmine. The Texas sun encourages red geraniums to climb upward among the branches of a young olive tree. Hydrangeas keep themselves cool in the shade of a fence protecting their delicate white pom-pom shaped blooms from the sun’s harsh rays. And my roses forgive the exuberant growth of lavender bushes determined to rule the sunniest beds.
Life moves fast in America. One lives by appointments and inflexible calendars, our days defined on the screen of a phone. As each day draws to a close, my English garden beckons me forth, offering her serenity and an unhurried moment to sit, reflect, and marvel at her beauty. My peace. My quiet. They are here in my English garden – in Texas.
Gillian Burns hails from Yorkshire in the North of England. She worked for the BBC World Service in London, The Hong Kong Government and a non-profit foundation in San Francisco, and a venture capital company in California’s Silicon Valley before setting her sails for more distant lands. She has traveled, lived and worked in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, and Malaysia, discovering a deep connection and life long love for Asia. Home for Gillian, her husband, and two children is now Austin, Texas. She works as a freelance writer, tinkers with editing, and enjoys being a guest blog contributor. Gardening has been a constant passion since early childhood. She coordinated and led an elementary school garden program for six years and hopes her children will inherit the English gardening gene. This article was first published in Natural Life Magazine.