Pa and Ma had always had someone to help in the garden. Hilda did some weeding and Ma liked gardening, I don’t think my father-in-law was particularly interested. They had several chickens in a large run, but I never took a lot of notice of them at that time. They were rehomed when the annexe was built. Soon after Pa died, their gardener (this sounds more than it was, it was a retired man wanting a few hours’ work to augment his pension) decided to retire and it was then that Kenny came into our lives.
Kenny had recently retired from a factory where he cut plates of steel – I can’t remember for what purpose – anyway, he’d had a varied career. When he left school he was the gardener’s boy on a nearby estate – a country estate with a large house, that is. In the war, he joined the army and became a cook. Later, he was a ‘ganger’ on the railways. He was short and compact, strong and hard-working and loved a chat. He especially liked it when one of us was out there working alongside him, he enjoyed company. He always came in for a yarn and a cup of coffee, mid-morning, and usually told a few tales about his working days. He’d got dozens and we heard all of them a fair few times over the years.
After Ma died, he agreed to stay on and keep the garden tidy and we were lucky that he liked us enough to carry on working. He came every morning during the week, worked for an hour or so, had coffee, worked for another hour or so – I did a lot in the garden too, growing vegetables was my enthusiasm.
When we were planning to move here, I said I wanted two twelve-foot greenhouses. I’d got one at our last house, plus a smaller one, and wanted a bit more space. When we went to a garden centre to look at them, we found we could get three ten-footers for less than two of the larger ones – we put them end to end, including the dividing doors but not the central pane of glass, obviously. I used to have to have heated propagators in the large porch until I had electricity put in there some years later, then I used soil-warming cables to heat the propagators.
Near where the small vegetable garden had been, a tree had grown large enough to shadow it, so I wanted to relocate. There was a patch of grass, roughly 50 foot by 70, opposite the barns. So we put the greenhouses there and set out a veg garden the other side. The planning of it was one of my better ideas, in fact. There are six beds, each 4 foot wide and thirty-something feet long, with concrete paths in between. The idea was that I didn’t have to weed or manure any area where I wasn’t growing anything. A bonus was that sun warmed up the concrete, which helped to warm the soil, and rainwater ran off into the beds, a benefit in this dry area with my sandy soil. The beds ran north to south with the greenhouse along the north end, which sheltered it. To the western side, there was a bit more space where I grew Jerusalem artichokes and it also housed the Calor gas tank. Then there was a hedge and then a wide verge to the drive.
If you’ve been here, the wall is more or less where the hedge used to be, except that it’s nearer the drive with just room for a flower bed. But that’s a whole ‘nother story, and one that’s been told already.
A few years, three or four, later, my friend Bobbie’s parents were moving up from Sussex to Norfolk. Her mother was a keen gardener too and they had a number of large greenhouses, some of which the new owners would rather were removed. So I was offered one and Russell, with a few others, went off with a lorry to dismantle them and bring them back. It was fabulous, made of cedar, old but in good order, thirty foot long by twelve feet wide. We took in a bit of the field the other side of the kitchen garden – the south side, that is, and re-erected it. I grew so many vegetables there (nearly all of which were, technically, fruits, of course), cucumber, melons, okra, peppers both sweet and hot – the original aluminium one tended to be used for tomatoes, I think, and I also grew lots and lots of plants from seed, most of which I sold for local good causes.