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...
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.