Not Every Young Girl Dreams Of Gardening
I had very little concept of gardening as a child.
Growing up in the hustle and bustle of 1980s Leeds; the little terrace house I lived in, with my parents and three siblings, had the tiniest of yards – good for drying your clothes and swapping pleasantries with your neighbours – but not much else.
Although it was filled with the fog and smoke that pervaded most Northern cities at that time; Leeds was still a surprisingly verdant city to grow up in.
Before the intense modernisation of the centre, the city held onto a slice of the post-war charm that most English cities had shed by this point. Hanging flower baskets and green shrubbery edged the lines of the High Streets, where the green grocers brushed shoulders with the bakers and haberdasheries.
There is a dim view of Northerners, propagated by people from the South.
It maintains that we are a backward people – stubborn and resistant to change. Whilst I would contend the general, derogatory term of ‘backward’, I believe that stubbornness and resistance are simply the cornerstones of resilience – a quality that one should be proud of.
The industrial cities of Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield were heavily bombarded throughout the chaotic times of World War II.
Yet the populations of these hard-working cities remained steadfast and reliable. Throughout my formative years, growing up in the North, I was struck by the unwavering respect that the older generations were shown – this was demonstrated in the, almost curator-like attitude that the city was shown by it’s planners and architects.
Rather than stride headlong into the modern archetypes of shopping malls and glass etched concrete edifices, the city – in an effort to honour the sacrifice that it’s citizens had made in preserving it’s future – stayed trapped, as if in a time capsule.
As such, although I grew up throughout the late 70s and 80s, an idiosyncratic feeling of wartime Britain permeates the memories of my childhood.
This is highlighted by the notable absence of instant telecommunications and the endless hours that I spent exploring the great outdoors.
Within the quaintly kept parks and gardens of the Leeds and Bradford area, I spent my afternoons cycling through the manicured lawns and gravelled parks with my friends.
Before public parks were tarred with stereotypes of roving gangs of drunk youths and sexual deviants, they were calm oases – filled with families on picnics and old people enjoying an hour or so of constitutional activity.
In my mind’s eye I can just about recall the blur of reds, pinks and blues – the forget-me-nots in full bloom, a technicolor blur as I sped by on my 3-speed.
The myriad, verdant corners of the city were my playground – yet I rarely considered how they came to be, before I left school and took a part-time job as a Gardener’s Assistant.
In the mid-80s, there weren’t a great deal of jobs going around for teenagers, beyond the traditional alleys of newspaper distributor and kitchen porter. I was lucky enough to strike up a conversation with Mr. Brown (a stickler for tradition and respect, I never discovered his Christian name) one evening, whilst walking through Ebor Gardens.
He told me about the hard work and attention to detail needed, in order to keep a large piece of land in good repair and it sounded to me like an occupation that I was born for.
After that wonderful Summer, spent learning about keeping grounds and planting cycles, I left the North to study Biology in at University. Although I’ve visited hundreds of botanical gardens and arboretums in my time, none compare in my mind to that quaint little corner of Leeds.
Which is why, upon my retirement, I returned to Leeds to take up a career as a Bespoke Garden Designer.