There's a sunken pathway. Without any paving stones the ground has compacted over the years, trodden down by the footsteps of all the others who've followed the same route to the end of the garden. I stop to admire the pale pink roses, wondering if I should collect the secateurs from the shed to cut some flowers for the house on the way back; already half-knowing I'll forget. I bury my nose in the soft petals, hoping just once to inhale their scent. My sense of smell faded long ago, but the fragrance of childhood rises in my memory at the thought of the crushed rose petals in a jam-jar of water that was my first perfume.
I go past the gooseberry bush, where only a few undersized fruits remain; most of them have been taken by the birds, or fallen unnoticed to the ground. There were always gooseberries when we were young, down at the end of the garden, next to the rhubarb plants, just past the metal pole at the end of the washing line. The pole was always slightly loose in its fittings, and on a windy day, you'd hear it clang as it moved backwards and forwards, swung around by the movement of the heavy wet washing. A few steps further there was an old green swing, with a deep channel under the wooden seat, where years and years of scuffing shoes had worn away the grass then the dirt. I remember how we used to dare each other to see if we could make the swing go so high it would spin right over the top. We never managed that, but we all learnt to leap from the seat at its highest point, stretching out to touch the top of the washing pole as we tried to fly. I remember the time my sister tore her red tartan dress when it caught on the swing as she leapt, I think I remember my mum's exasperated despair that she hadn't known better.
Perhaps we should get a swing for this garden, I like the idea of a future generation shouting at me to push 'higher, higher'. More than that though, I like the idea of sitting on it, gently moving backwards and forwards as the sun goes down, taking the time to reflect quietly on my day. I like to think that's what my Dad used to do as he sat on the old swing slowly inhaling one of the long Senior Service cigarettes he was discouraged from smoking indoors.
As I pass by the pond I try not to be distracted by the dusty windows of the shed, try not to notice the varnish that's cracked and peeling and the wooden slats that are drying out and warping in the sun. I don't even notice the empty raised beds; one day they'll be stocked with vegetables, just waiting for us to pick and eat, but not just yet.
When I reach the end, I go through the wooden gate. It hangs slightly askew and I need to lift it a bit to help the bolt slide out, but it's not too stiff or rusty and I remember to shut it behind me, in case the cat is following. I cross the access road; we're right at the end and there's no through route, so the cars don't come down this far. I like that it's there though, I like the way it marks the space between our proper garden and the secret garden that sits there in front of me.
At first glance all I can see are nettles and brambles, a mass of small flowers promising me an autumn blackberry harvest, but I know there's more to be found, that the thorns and stings are really there just to keep me out, like the forest that grew up around the sleeping beauty. There's a thin path along the side, where the grass has been cut, so I walk on, past the pile of grass trimmings and hedge cuttings, to the tangled branches of two old apple trees. One has small green apples, the clear sharp green of cooking apples; the colour of Robin Hood. The other tree has fruit of a softer green, with a pale red blush, a bit like Maid Marian.
Pushing through the apple trees are the new branches of an elder tree. I'm not sure if there's only one, the undergrowth is too tangled to see. I stand for a while, wishing I was a child again, imagining the fun I could have clearing a space and building my own secret den here, somewhere I could stay for hours with just a book and a glass of lemon barley water. I'd cut the thin branches and weave them into a shelter, peer through, without being seen. I could sit hidden from parents and sisters, staying safe from the evil Sheriff of Nottingham until my Robin cantered home.
Between the leaves I catch a glimpse of something red lying on its side, with brambles weaving up and through it. It's an old climbing frame. I recognise it immediately as the same one I bought for my sons many years ago. In an instant I'm taken back to the garden of the house we lived in when they were young. The house I thought would be ours for ever; the place they'd grow up in, leave and come back to with children of their own. I swallow hard, wondering where the years have gone, pushing back the voice that tauntingly reminds me how things didn't turn out quite the way I'd planned.
But then, just as the secret garden starts to fade away, turning back into just an overgrown wasteland, I hear another voice. It's Philip telling me about his plans for our orchard; the peaches, almonds, apricots, and greengages we'll grow, the walnut tree he's already ordered. Then I know, even if this doesn't turn out to be the place we live forever, we can still be like Robin Hood and Maid Marian.