Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Cherry Orchard

Oh, my childhood, my innocent childhood! This is the nursery where I slept and I used to look out at the orchard from here. When I woke up every morning happiness awoke with me... 
(Chekhov, 1903)


There were no orchards in Croxted Road, but I can still  picture the garden as it looked from my bedroom window more than thirty years ago.

Most of it was just grass, not grand enough to be called a lawn, spotted with daisies and dandelions, it had a round dip halfway down that we sometimes called a fairy ring. There were borders for flowers, with roses for making squashed-petal-perfume, snap-dragons that would open their mouths as we squeezed at the side, and livingstone daisies that closed tight every night as the sun went down and opened again like magic in the morning. There was a bumpy stone path that led alongside the washing line to the bottom of the garden, where the compost heap and  the gooseberry bushes sat either side of the huge green swing.

If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still see my big sister peering round the flap of her wigwam; I can hear my little sister riding her pretend horse, making clip-clopping noises as she gallops around and around; in my mind's eye, our cat Oliver winds in and out of my Mum's legs as she pegs washing on the line and my Dad sits on the swing smoking a cigarette.

I loved that garden; a place for laughing and arguing, for fighting and playing. Never mind that it was a small back garden in south London, in my imagination it was part The Secret Garden, part Little House on the Prairie, and it came to represent for me everything that a garden should be. For a long time after I left Croxted Road, I wanted to create another garden just the same. A place for my own children to remember, somewhere they could grow up in, then return to as adults, in time bringing their own children with them.

But of course, it didn't turn out like that.

Sometimes the world changes around us and we aren't able, or simply just fail, to take control and change the course of events.  Chekhov knew that. The Cherry Orchard ends with Mrs Ranevsky losing her childhood home, with the curtain falling to the sound of an axe cutting down the orchard. A hundred years later, I understood it too as my dreams of a long-time family home and garden were replaced by the reality of a series of rented houses and other people's gardens.

I like to think though, that there's more to both our stories. Mrs Ranevsky set out for Paris, we came to Otford.

Last year we bought our house and with it, we took ownership of a long, long, garden. It has room for a swing, for flower beds and a path,  there are long stretches of grass, space for games and picnics. We're making plans for places to sit, for climbing roses and a fragrant lilac. It will take a while, but I think we'll gradually turn it into a garden to remember.

And this week we planted a cherry tree.


17 comments:

mapstew said...

I love gardens, but not the work! Our extension some years back took up most of our burb garden, but the plan is to sell when the daughters have moved out and buy a wee place outside the city. (Where Mrs. Map can look after the garden!) Though an apartment in the MIDDLE of town (near nightlife) might also be on the cards!? :¬)

xxx

Bill Dameron said...

My garden now consists of four flower boxes. After having a yard for all of my life, we have moved to the maintenance free part of our life. But I do miss our garden.

Hillary said...

I envy you your garden. I absolutely stink at making things grow, and I don't know why; I really like to see things grow, get green to the point of radiance and bloom. Wish you could teach me how to garden. It's tough going in Arizona.

Your new garden is, I bet, green and lush, and how beautiful to have that childhood paradise to recall while tending it.

The Idiot Gardener said...

It's taken me nearly 15 years to turn my garden from an overgrown mess with a lump of lawn to a selection of musheaps and discarded bricks amongst timber raised beds and plastic sacks with potatoes growing in them!

Rome wasn't built in a day, apparently, and a cherry tree is a good place to start (until the birds nick all the fruit).

elaine said...

What lovely remininscenses of your childhood garden. I have always loved gardening and have always been fortunate enough to have one, and now spend many happy hours growing flowers and veg and blogging about it. I hope to keep doing so right to the end.

Pat said...

I'm sure you will make it a lovely garden. It's never too late I didn't start mine till '85 and now it really is a hidden secret garden - a comfort and joy.
Strange that Chekov awoke with happiness every morning. Who knew:)

ND Mitchell said...

Loved the way you recounted the sensory description of your childhood garden. It took me back to my own, complete with cat too! Hope your new garden continues to take shape.
David

The Elephant's Child said...

There were a lot of similarities in the garden of your childhood and my own.
Perhaps this is part of the reason I have become an obsessional gardener. Lots of work, lots of reward. And often the rewards come months later when the pain of the work is nothing but a memory.

raymond alexander kukkee said...

Sharon, when I read your postings, I somehow find peace in your writing, particularly in your evaluation of the past. I have yet to determine the reason for that sense of peace. I am so glad to hear you have planted a cherry tree. Cherry trees --and your new gardens will be very beautiful, for such things are often built by wonderful memories and things missed --and they will give you something back that you have badly missed. Your writing is wonderful.

Cle Reveries said...

It's very nice and tender what you write about your garden or orchard. I feel like that all the times I go at my villa in the sunny Italian country: it's a dive in nature and on the sea of remembrances.
Have a nice week full of spring flower scents

Mary-Colleen said...

I often think of how my children are building their memories. It's not something we as parents can guide overly much, but we can create or encourage the environments that lay the foundations for those lifelong memories.

I agree with Raymond about the peace inherent in your writing.

Dicky Carter said...

I like this bit: ...our cat Oliver winds in and out of my Mum's legs as she pegs washing on the line and my Dad sits on the swing smoking a cigarette.

A lovely piece of melancholy.

Lizzie said...

I have so many warm, fuzzy, loving feelings reading this post. You capture imagination and childhood dreams so perfectly.

Baglady said...

The very best writing doesn't just tell you what the author wants to share but it reflects back on the reader, making them see things themselves.

For me this not only gave me a beautiful glimpse into your childhood but it opened a window in my mind to my own childhood back garden with its pebbledashed shed, crumbling breezeblock walls and bumpy grass. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

hello please send your details again ive missplaced them
paul

his_girl_friday said...

Beautiful cherry blossoms.

Jacksquatch Detangled said...

Your writing is intoxicating... Lovely and wonderful. Thanks again for your art!