Grandad’s garden

The thick smell of privet blossom on a still summer’s day takes me back in time to around 1953 when I was about eleven or twelve.  If you headed over the common, past Scan’s Scrap Yard and left across a narrow makeshift bridge that straddled the beck, you were in the lane. A short distance along, through clouds of midges, a huge privet bush dripping cream blossom hung over a garden fence and opposite was Grandad’s gate.

Grandad had an allotment that he shared with his two sons, Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Teddy. He was a typical North of Englander. He wore a dark pinstripe suit, complete with waistcoat, a broad leather belt and solid studded boots. A flat ‘at and white scarf around his neck completed the outfit. When his flowers were in bloom he often picked a carnation or a marigold to wear in the buttonhole of his lapel.

‘The Garden’ was like a hidden oasis. A ramshackle fence, cobbled from old corrugated sheets, rusty wire and ancient timbers surrounded it. The Garden was never locked but had a secret catch over the top of the gate. The Garden ran in a narrow strip from the lane down to the banks of the beck. It was divided by a cinder path down the centre.

Grandad grew carrots, radishes, peas, caulies, cabbages, lettuce, goosegogs1 and rows of wallflowers and marigolds. At one end he kept hens in a run near the fence. Opposite, in a row of hutches, he had an assortment of rabbits, some ginger, others black and white or brown. The rabbits were not pets and usually ended up as Sunday lunch. There was also a scruffy, tortoiseshell cat that lived in The Garden. It never had a proper name but simply answered to ‘Oie’!

Many times the three Jones children went around to Gran’s on Saturday mornings and Grandad would take us ‘down the garden’. Other times, we went to The Garden to see if he was there. He let us help pick the vegies, feed the rabbits and crush mussel shells into grit for the hens. Coral was scared of the hens but loved picking the peas. We believed that Grandad’s peas were the sweetest we ever tasted.

When we got bored we often wandered down to the bottom of the path near the bank of the beck, where two blackcurrant bushes grew, to pick the red or black berries. Grandad let the hens out to have a pick and a scratch around the garden beds.  He called them back in with the same gruff voice he used on the cat and the kids. He didn’t talk much but that didn’t seem to matter. When he thought that we’d had enough, he’d shove a huge bunch of marigolds or carnations, tied with coarse twine, into our hands. “Tek these ‘round t’yer mam,” he would say, and off we’d go.

Grandad had a homemade barrow. It was an ungainly affair, heavy and deep, with short stubby handles. The structure balanced on a steel axle with small cast iron wheels. Sometimes he would load up the barrow and let me or Tommy sell the garden produce for him around the streets, or from our house in the open doorway. He gave us some idea of price, but allowed us to use our own discretion on what to charge.

Jim Turner – Grandad at the Nash

The Garden was Grandad’s main interest after he retired from the wharf, but he was forced out in 1955 when plans were made to redevelop the area.

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  1. gooseberries