Here is the house where I grew up. The conservatory is on the left, a greenhouse left of that and the garage block behind. The house is still there, but divided into two and altered accordingly – the right hand half as we look at it didn’t have a kitchen, for instance, so that has been added. The garage and three greenhouses were pulled down to build another house. The kitchen garden was to the right, out of sight.
But I’m telling you about the kitchen garden and the hothouses, so this picture isn’t really relevant. It gives you a flavour, though.
The hothouses were heated by a coke furnace and hot water was piped through – I don’t know how much it was used in our day, things were different when my grandparents built the house. My parents and Mr Weavers used to grow flowers and vegetables for shows – the Norfolk and Suffolk show mostly, but also local ones. It was all taken very seriously. My parents used to go to the Chelsea Flower Show every year, when Members’ Day was very posh. You dressed up for it. They made a beeline for the Blackmore and Langdon stall in the marquee, to buy the best begonia corms and delphiniums. Those were the flowers that my parents specialised in showing. A begonia bigger than a dinner plate was not unknown. They were a bugger to transport as the fleshy stems were easily damaged. In a show, having a long tall flower that’s in bloom all the way up is impressive. Mr Weavers used to sit, the day before a show, dipping delphinium stems in hot and then cold water, to get the upper buds to open up without scalding the plant. In nature, the lower flowers would have gone over by the time the upper ones were open. I daresay science has devised varieties that are at their peak all the way, now; as they have with tomatoes.
In the week or two before a show, we were constrained in what vegetables we ate. Nothing perfect, in fact. There was still plenty of choice. Mr Weavers would bring a basket of vegetables to the house every day.
I should manage some memories … I grew broad beans one year, in a little bit of ground in the rock garden. But I was too lazy to keep carrying water down from the house and used river water, not realising that it was a bit salt, as Oulton Broad is tidal, so they didn’t actually produce any beans.
Once, when I was about ten or eleven, my father took me to the town nursery. In those days, all the parks had elaborate bedding schemes, changed twice a year, and everything was grown from seed or cuttings. The chief nurseryman was Mr Campbell, as Scottish as his name implies. He had a reputation as a martinet, but he was immensely kind to me, a shy little girl who didn’t give much to go on. I had a lovely time. He showed me round the gardens and the greenhouses. I especially remember the huge glasshouse where, at one end, a lemon tree grew up the wall. He picked a ripe lemon for me, and also gave me lots of other plants to bring home. Although my parents were loving and kind and I had a happy childhood, I rarely felt the centre of attention, but I was on that day. The plants were all swept down to the greenhouse and I never saw them again and the lemon stayed on the kitchen counter, unused.
There was no lack of thoughtfulness intended, it’s just that there was nothing child-centred (as we’d say today) about my childhood and so it didn’t matter, and I was too reserved to say anything – if I had, I’d have had whatever I wanted. Still, I had the day and I still have it, over half a century later and, if I’d had the care of the plants I’d probably have forgotten to water them. Pfft. All the same, one of them was a mimosa pudica, the sensitive plant, whose leaves fold up when you touch them, and I’ve grown that from seed and given the plants to children, many times since. And, a few years ago, I bought some lemons with the twigs attached. A day or two later, the kitchen smelt wonderful, and it was the lemon flowers that had opened up, and it took me right back to that day.
Another memory is the time when the raspberries kept vanishing. Mr Weavers suggested to my mother that I might have been eating them. My mother assured him that I’d have done no such thing, and I wouldn’t. It was well known that Mr Weavers was King in the kitchen garden, though I was allowed to eat as many tiny tomatoes off the vine as I wanted. But a watch was kept – I mentioned that there was a picket fence between the drive and the kitchen garden. Darling Huckleberry (Hound, not Finn) leapt the fence and delicately put his lips round each raspberry to remove it from the cane. The poor dog got his comeuppance in the end, however. We heard an agonised yowling and ran to the window – jumping, he’d not gone high enough and had caught both his back legs between the upright pickets and was painfully stuck, barely able to reach the ground with his front paws. We rushed to rescue him and he wasn’t hurt, but he was quite subdued for a day or two. I’ve written about all our dogs, so I know I’ve told you about Huck, who was probably the sweetest dog I’ve ever known.