A Gardener's World

The aspect from a window into the garden has been my 'world' this summer. I've had to view it as an outsider, without lifting a spade or hoe to maintain its sub-tropical, blooming lushness as I've been confined for weeks after knee surgery.

Years ago my mother warned me not to kneel on wet earth, chop down trees or double-dig a half acre vegetable plot. I gave up the vegetables and since, I've had the joy of designing and planting a new garden, which, sadly, my mother never saw. To garden is fundamental to the women in our family and it's a characteristic that both my sister, myself and our offspring, have inherited in our growing genes. She would nag constantly in that way mothers do, "You should take care of your knees.... when you get older, they'll be the first thing to let you down", she didn't intend to be ironic, and of course I took no notice, and, of course, she was right!

The time had come to 'bite the bullet': every step was painfully miserable and after several months of faffing around, I had a knee replacement in early summer. It's been a curious experience of being out of touch with reality, especially in the first weeks that blurred into an analgesic induced haze; if anything, I'm now able to empathise with those being housebound and dependent on others to be taken out. Sleeping was difficult and I spent many afternoons dozing and doing exercises from bed, just looking at the outside world, particularly the garden, getting along without me. I've found it quite acceptable to have made 'friends' with a pair of collared doves; such gentle, elegant creatures, cooing and canoodling and trusting enough to be hand-fed....well, that was what I thought until I saw the ferocity of their attack on a magpie!

Furcraea Parmentieri deatil of Furcraea Parmentieri Echium the lake our 'tame' doves

I was convinced that I was hallucinating and the Tramadol were getting the better of me on the day that a mundane agave, growing insignificantly in the gravel garden for ten years, began to change shape. Something peculiar began to emerge from its centre. A bulbous, green reptilian head like a vegetarian variant of the 'Alien', 'chestburster', pushed through the fronds, growing at an alarming rate of at least 3 ft a week, until it reached around 20ft. The green 'head' unwound, spiral-like, sending out 'branches' to create a skeletal, triangular shape that flowered into cascades of the most beautiful creamy-yellow blossom.

Is it odd to say that I feel privileged to have experienced a plant manifest such palpable life force.? To think it's spent a decade building up the energy to reproduce itself so spectacularly just to die. I sent a photograph to the RHS magazine for interest and the editor of The Plantsman. Mike Grant, identified it as a Furcraea Parmentieri. It's monocarpic (dies after flowering) and in the florescence there are numerous acorn-sized bulbets ready to begin the process again. This plants indigenous home is the arid deserts of Mexico and it's not something that we expect to see, living in Cornwall.

I'm happily content having my hands covered in earth, weeding, dead-heading and waiting for plants to flourish as they takes their chance against the capricious Cornish climate, so being physically incapable, has been like watching a slow motion traverse through someone else's summer where flowers have unfolded, flowered and faded in a parallel universe from which I've been detached and excluded.

Summer began as the wisteria began to lose its froth of smokey, lilac-grey clusters that had smothered the pergola. Here we are in September; the striking spikes of echium are contorted and shrivelled and the agapanthus blooms have dimmed beyond their blue brilliance. The air already has a morning chill and there's a dank smell of autumn on the unpicked sloes and blackberries, while diamond-bright dew sparkles on the spiders' webs.

Part of me is sad that this has been a 'lost' summer. But the future is good; I've got a new knee, I'm independent again and I'm beginning to wonder how lovely, and perverse, the crazy Mexican plant will look covered in Christmas lights!


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