Home for Christmas: Winter in the Childhood Garden


My childhood family garden has always belonged to Mum. Mum's garden. Mum's shed. Mum's chickens. Dad might strim a hedge or two, and fell an unwanted holly bush annually, but his interest wanes at edging beds or planting lavender plants five in a row. Even the more manual chore of mowing the lawn is now resolutely Mum's job. It's her garden: we merely visit it, admire it and labour in it for her.

The over-grown vegetable patch waiting to be restructured in spring.

Which is, increasingly, how coming home for Christmas feels as I creep into my twenties. However resolutely the Kehoe siblings are told that this will always be our home, each festive visit  reiterates the nagging sense of displacement as the childhood confidence in owing this space melts away into the realisation that one day in the not-too-distant-future we will only visit this house, and that it will not be our home. There seems no concrete line when the change happens, but one day I will visit my parents for Christmas, before returning to a new home that isn't Chauffeur's Cottage. That day is closer now than it has ever been.

For now, we are quasi-guests, comfortable but temporary. Each day of the Christmas periods reminds us of our displacement when drinking glasses are found to reside in unknown places and our clothes are hung in wardrobes that have new inhabitants (that don't belong to us). The ownership of the garden encroaches inwards, winding tendrils into the windows of the house, marking out the territory as familiar but owned by Mum, not us.

Mum incinerating the wrapping paper from Christmas Day

Now, when I return home, I am given the regular tour of Mum's garden. How the old are doing, what is new, what needs changing and what needs to be thought about changing. Chicken eggs are collected in pockets, the compost bin is given a berating for not being turned over in a decade. Winter is a moment of opportunity for Mum: to plan, to imagine, a glimmer of a future garden seeded in the wet mud. Unlike me, she knows the placement of the bulbs that are pushing against the soil deep down. She remembers the roots of hidden plants resting under the mud, waiting for the warmth of spring.

For me, the winter garden is more peaceful.  The woody stems of bare clematis creating architectural cages over fences, mossy pots standing to attention ready to be scrubbed. Every plant is waiting, pausing. Even the blooms of the winter-flowing clematis are unobtrusive, noticeable only if you look (and hard).  The silence of the damp earth patiently waits out the dim, cold winter months, expectations brimming just below the surface of the ground where roots continue to grow. But my image of the garden is only half formed. It is, after all, not my garden.

The winter blooming clematis

This is Mum's garden. Its future shape is held by her and I can only visit it when she grants me a comment or two. The four new veg patch beds will sit here, these dogwoods will be planted in that  space.  The beds are going to be extended round the corner in spring. She maps out the spring movements, the garden centre trips and the weeding days one-by-one.

Gardens are always owned by just one person. There is no such thing as a communal garden; they are either somebody's or they are a park (which isn't a garden). My childhood garden will always be Mum's. Resolute in the winter weather,  always present, always encompassing. It's her garden, but I'm allowed to walk in it.

A Viburnam, bright against the dimness of Winter

A new home and new plants - Monstera Delicious, Pilea Peperomiodides, Fittonia

Three weeks into London life and I'm only now sitting down to write a post. Since then, three new plants have joined my plant collection. They're nestled onto an east-facing window sill looking out over the 'balcony' where some winter pansies have been slap-dash planted on top of tulip and daffodil bulbs.

What I'd never imagined about urban gardening is how little time you have to do it. A moment there, a morning here - when you're out nine 'till five and the weekends are filled with rain, time to dead-head slips away. Feeling a leaf to check the water situation is pushed into milliseconds, instead of minutes. Time is precious, we're told. They never remind you that its also rare.


But the houseplants are doing OK with the minimal attention I'm giving them. The east-facing window is a god-send and some of them are growing fast in the dimming autumn light. My Wandering Jew keeps branching out bushier and bushier, refusing to trail artistically down the pot. The Sedum Adolphi's yellowed leaves keep twisting towards the sun, seeking out those last rays.

Up on the window this morning is the Monstera Delicious, a newbie. Bought from The Nunhead Gardener, it usually resides beside my bed but today it gets to feel the sun on its leaves. I have no idea how to care for it, bar sunlight, water et al. I think it will be a case of look and learn.


In its shadow two other new plants sit in small antique terracotta pots - an extravagance only the first days of a student loan will allow. A Fittonia, pinked up with green veins, overfills one pot,
 not quite yet settled into the compost. Next door, a Pile Peperomiodides, horribly overpriced, nods gently in the window breeze. A Chinese money plant has been top of my most-wanted list for a while, its circular leaves so crisp against the white wood sill.



Winter is coming. And no, you're not meant to think of Jon Snow when I say that. The watering is easing up and the growth of the plants is slowing down. In the last stray days of summer that filter through the autumnal chill, an occasional sunny day is a small blessing.

5 easy-to-grow houseplants for complete beginners

So you've been inspired by the green interiors trend and now you're on the look-out for your first houseplant purchase. You grab a luxurious-looking jungle grower, take it home and two weeks later, those gorgeous leaves are going brown.

Sound familiar? Whenever I chat to friends about houseplants, this is most people's sob-story describing why having plants just isn't for them. If this sounds like your houseplant backstory, the good news is there's still hope for your budding green fingers.

A number of houseplants have very specific needs and any beginner is going to struggle to keep them happy, unless they're blessed with a tonne of good luck. Instead, when adventuring into the green abyss of houseplant ownership for the first time, try sticking to these 5 easy-to-grow, beginner plants that you'll struggle to kill.


Crassula Ovata (Jade Plant, Money Tree)

The IKEA bookshelf of houseplants, Crassula Ovata is the plant that you'll find in abodes across the UK, largely ill-treated but sturdy and robust enough to put up with the abuses thrown at it. The thick, luxurious bottle-green leaves of the Jade plant identify it as a succulent - meaning it can withstand forgetful watering schedules. Architectural in its growth, jades can grow into small tree-like formations if you chose to prune them. But left alone, they'll easily grow bushy and tall with minimal help.


The basics for looking after a jade? Start it off on a good foot by planting it in a pot that has drainage holes at the bottom - this can be the plastic pot you planted it in. Try to remember to water your jade plant whenever the soil is completely dry (try sticking a finger in the plant pot - if your finger comes out dry, it's time for a water). Place it in a sunny window, if you can. If not, it can tolerate shadier pots but won't grow as successfully. Jades come in a number of varieties, including hobbit, variegated and dwarf versions - these can be harder to care for than the bog-standard money tree.

Chlorophystum Comosum (Spider Plant)

The pale green and yellow stems of the spider plant are one of the most instagrammable plants you'll find- and the good news is, this plant needs minimal attention. Grow it in a sunny spot, and try to keep the soil moist during the summer. As a plus, this plant is amazing at recycling polluted air, so will keep city flats freshly oxygenated for you.

Aloe Vera

Another popular succulent and yes, this is the plant you'll find in your aftersun care - you can even snap a leaf off and use the gel directly on a burn! Again, aloes need minimal watering (whenever the soil is completely dry) and only want partial sunlight. Aloes also pup really easily, meaning they grow baby aloes all around them, which you can remove from the mother plant and pot up separately - perfect for when you've found your green fingers growing.


Philodendrons

There are loads of different Philodendrons, but they all need roughly the same care, which amounts to not much. Although jungle plants, they don't like too much water - you should try to let their soil dry out between waterings, but water quite heavily when you do. They don't like bright sunlight so keep them in a partially-lit to shady corner. Their glossy green leaves are heavenly against a white wall, but try to remember to dust them to help the plant breathe.


Sanseveria, Mother-in-Law's Tongue

Another air-filtering hero, Sanseveria's will reduce pollutants in the air. They like full to partial sun and well draining soil (remember drainage holes!). This plant is really durable and likes to be on the dry side so don't worry about forgetful watering - just top it up now and again.

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave