Thursday, 23 June 2011

Family Trees and Shrubs

Last weekend my elder son wore The Kilt for the first time as formal dress at a friends' wedding, although it was not the right tartan, and he was disappointed to find that the blade of the sgian dubh had been sealed for Health'n'Safety reasons. He and his brother have well-documented rights to their clan tartan, and their father (even though he was a third-generation New Zealander) was always keen that they should know their family history.

I am quite keen that they should not know their family history from my side, or at least not all of it, not the bits of which I deeply disapprove.

Then I think, who do I think I am? What rights of approval and disapproval do I have over my own family background?
When people agree to appear in the BBC television series, Who Do You Think You Are? there are inevitably some shocks in store (which make for better viewing figures, of course).

I do not want to think that I am dependent on my ancestors for being who and what I am today. Certainly there is genetic inheritance, and there are socio-economic factors which have affected me, but their lives were completely different, even one generation ago.

So I am doing what parents always have done and will do....selecting the good bits and giving credit where it may possibly be due. Such as, 'You are so like your Grandfather, he had a photographic memory', and 'Your Great-Grandmother was talented in art and music'.
I edit out the bad bits, the bits I found out about too late in life to challenge the perpetrators; the double-dealing and low cunning, the shady behaviour in War-Time, the general mess and confusion of family life including episodes of what can now only be called cruelty, but which might then have been interpreted as 'character-forming'. Possibly.
Times change, our knowledge and understanding changes with it.

My late husband believed that he had inherited the ability to whisk egg-whites with his bare hands, his father allegedly being able to do so, and no doubt other members of the clan before him. One entertaining afternoon this genetic skill was proved not to have been inherited, but our sons were told of hardiness, endurance and other traits which were certainly needed in days long past; in Scotland, in the days of the early settlers in New Zealand, and on the long sea-journey between the two.

Family history becomes a sort-of myth, where people are mostly well-intentioned and fairly honourable. There are amusing anecdotes, and entertaining sepia photographs. I hope I am not being unrealistic in wanting to keep it that way.
Parts of it are true.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Growing Places.

I've been away for a while, visiting some gardens.
I've been to two wonderfully academic botanical gardens, where plants are being researched and bar-coded and redefined. You can see one of them 'here',.
I've been to some other gardens of the 'lost in time' variety, beautifully structured, historically interesting places that are being cleverly restored.'Aberglasney' is one of them.
I've been to a richly eccentric garden, festooned in bindweed, where the extremely confident owner said, 'Just ignore the weeds. I do!'

Then I came back home.

My own garden is the place where I learn all the time.....and not just about plants.
It was starting to get me down, my garden.
There is a vine, which spreads itself around, over an iron arbour, over the neighbour's fence, over half the neighbourhood if I don't control it properly. An untended vine can allegedly cover an acre in an unchecked growing season.
In order to control it I need to clamber about on a stepladder with a set of very sharp pruning equipment.
I have a steep rockgarden, full of interesting plants, but also full of bindweed and - even worse - ground elder. In order to control this I need to climb among the rocks, again with nice sharp tools. There are some members of the family who indulge in this thing called 'bouldering'. I am not one of them, but I do appreciate sharp tools.
I need to kneel in order to get close-up and personal with all the weeds in the herbaceous bed, but in the various processes of climbing and clambering I fell and landed hard on both knees. For a couple of weeks I could not kneel, not even on my special padded lift-up-sit-down geriatric kneeling thingy.

Coming back home is such a wonderful thing.
I had to sit in the garden for some time, sniffing the honeysuckles, and the Crambe Cordifolia,(which smells like honey) and watching the swallows screaming across a deepening blue sky. I needed to look at the plants, so many given to me by friends and therefore full of memories. I looked at the summerhouse, built by my late husband from recycled materials and remembered how mad I used to be about his habits of hoarding those same junk materials.

The garden makes me take stock of myself, and to appreciate my life here and now. To leave it would be unthinkable, yet has to be made thinkable, for I have had my three-score years and ten, and I live alone. I have to grow and learn a bit of commonsense, at last.
It is no longer sensible to clamber about on rocks and stepladders with sharp implements, or at least, if I do so I must tell someone what I'm doing.
I must learn to arrange for help when I need it, and to accept that I begin to need it.
There are such things as mobile phones which I should take with me, up on the rockery, up on the pergola.
There are special tools with long handles to ease the kneeling. There are people who can help, if I could but learn to ask.

The acceptance of age is not easy. I am not concerned about the sagging bits, and I actively like the white hair, but it is the garden that teaches me my limitations and makes me grow into them.