Monday, May 2, 2016

'Travels With My Aunt'

"I have never planned anything illegal in my life," Aunt Augusta said.
Graham Greene 1904-1991

Neither of my parents had siblings so as a small child I sometimes used to wonder what it must be like to have ‘real’ aunts and uncles. Having said that, we did manage to accrue an engaging array of substitutes.

We visited ageless Jewish spinsters in lofty north London bedsits, that had the magical allure of squeaky polished floors, colourful cushions lined up on the divan, and carved wooden camels marching across the mantlepiece.

There were soft cheeked Aunties that moved gently in a haze of talcum powder, wore slippers and silky stockings, and gave us embroidered cotton handkerchiefs on our birthday. 

And then there was Aunty Ethel. 

She was a country-woman at heart but lived in the local town. When calling on her unannounced, we knew to circumnavigate the house, wander straight into the back garden and listen for her melodic voice rising from the bushes. Spotting us she would straighten up from her reverie and smile. I remember a spider gently letting itself down from the rim of her straw hat as she excused herself for soliloquising in the rose-bed.

I mention Ethel because whenever we took her out on garden visits she came with a commodious handbag, complete with secateurs. We would invariably lose her as she strayed from the path to scrutinise an unusual plant. With her back covering her actions she would be busy taking cuttings and stuffing them into her handbag. 
If she were ever apprehended we had prepared our retort... she was not related to us!

It was with her in mind, that on a trip to the magnificent Cambridge Botanic Garden last autumn, shhhhh, I snapped off a seed head from a Lychnis coronaria ‘Alba’ and popped it into my pocket.
So immaculately tended were the beds, I felt sure that if the gardener had got there before me he would have simply tossed the unsightly straggling stem straight into his wheelbarrow; I was simply doing him a favour. 

Back home I sowed my booty straight away, a couple of weeks later tiny green leaves appeared and now I have nice sturdy little plants ready for the white garden. 

Just think, if I’d slung my jeans in the washing machine without checking the pockets first it could all have been in vain!

P.S. I’ve taken to writing on my pots rather than using labels... too oft’ did one get separated from t’other.

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