In 1994 we moved to a gorgeous little village about a mile or so away from East Malling called Wateringbury. Our new house was partly very old. The two-storey front of the house was built in the nineteenth century but the one storey back was much older (though no one ever told me just how much older!) There was a small front garden which was planted with shrubs and I didn’t really have anything to do in it but the back garden was huge and wonderful! It had been planned and planted by the previous owners who had been there for nearly 25 years. I think maybe they wanted to move into a different place so that they could start planning another garden.
In ours there were plants from all corners of the world. There was a wonderful old cedar tree, a eucalyptus, a lovely wisteria growing near the back terrace, an arbour which was covered, when we moved in, with some sort of vine, and myriad other shrubs, trees and perennials which I can’t now name as well as bulbs and evergreen ground cover plants. There were two ponds. The biggest was just beyond the terrace and it was fed by the smaller pond via a waterfall as the small pond was on a higher level. This bigger pond was stocked with some gorgeous fish. It had an electric filter. It’s wiring was all underground and it had a little door in the ground where you could find the on/off switch and the plug and socket.
Now, I like all animals but I can’t bring myself to get emotionally attached to fish (after a traumatising occurrence way back in Cincinnati with a bowl of guppies), but I did feel that we should look after the fish and the ponds properly as they had been bequeathed to us (sort of) by the previous owners. During our second summer there, the big pond sprung a leak in its liner and we were having to add water every day. I won’t go into details about the very smelly business of removing all the fish to the small pond and emptying out the water and sludge, nor about the fitting of a new liner and all the travails the whole thing entailed but I have never again wanted to have a pond in the garden! (Unfortunately, when we moved to the seaside in 2005, we again inherited a large pond stocked with carp and other fish!)
The rest of the garden wasn’t such a problem but there are definitely downsides to a garden which is perfect – it doesn’t stay perfect because leaves fall, plants grow, plants die, stuff has to be got rid of in a garden that has no place for a bonfire or a compost heap. And, of course, the real problem with the Wateringbury garden was that it was already so beautifully planted, it wasn’t really ours.☹️
Around this time both Julian and I changed professions – Julian went to Wales and came back a fully fledged upholsterer (it took some months with gaps between) and I gave up full-time teaching and did some supply teaching (substitute teaching to my American friends) as well as started doing a little buying and selling of antique linens and sewing tools.
After a year or so of doing upholstery jobs in a crowded garage and the house getting (slightly) overwhelmed with the loads of linens I was buying to sell, we decided to find premises where we could do furniture restoration, upholstery and sell antiques. We were really lucky and found an old pub which had been turned into offices with living accommodation above. It was the old Rose and Crown which was just opposite my old home, Market Cross Cottage (see earlier posts) in West Malling High Street. The Rose and Crown became Rose and Crown Antiques and J&C Furniture Restoration.
We moved into the premises in 1997 and spent the next seven years or so having a great time, buying and selling antiques of all sorts – I had spread my buying wings to include ‘smalls’ and Julian bought and sold large pieces of antique furniture, though he carried on with the upholstery. One thing that The Rose and Crown didn’t have, though, was a garden. During those seven years I occasionally planted pots of flowers but, on the whole, my interest in gardens subsided. I gave away almost all my gardening books, stored most of my tools in Julian’s dad’s garage and put all my effort into buying and selling. (Don’t let anyone tell you all antique dealers are rich, by the way. One thing you need as a dealer is contacts, none of which we had. Another thing you need is ruthlessness when it comes to buying privately and, I found out rather quickly, neither Julian nor I had that ruthless streak.)
All good things come to an end and so it happened that after seven years we realised we were living hand-to-mouth and we were getting too old for the life we were living so we decided to retire and move ‘to the seaside’.
Here, we have a good-sized garden which we have made our own – with the help of a local garden design company who dug out almost everything, removed the blasted fish pond, made us a level seating area in the part of the garden that gets the best sun, and gave me a wild-flower area to lure birds, bees and butterflies. I have bought and planted a few shrubs and trees and put annuals and perennials into the raised beds. I haven’t got the energy or agility that I once had and don’t do as much gardening as I would like to do but am happy pottering and watching things grow. One of my favourite bits is the ‘insect hotel’ which I put up a year or so ago. It’s great to see the ‘entrances’ of the holes bunged up with bits of leaf, curls of wood or what looks like mud.
Today is the kind of day that reminds you why you love getting out into the garden. From inside it looks sunny and warm. Outside, it is cold though, being only January. It’s nice to realise that it won’t be too long before the days are longer than the nights and I can sit outside with my morning coffee, watching the birds, bees, neighbourhood cats and Julian mowing.😀
So, once more I will say, thank you, Iris for helping me learn to dig, sow, reap and, especially, love my outside space!