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Memories of Gardens

My very earliest memory of being in the garden I think is fairly stereotypical for its time. We were in Australia, so I was maybe three or four years old. All of my memories of being outdoors in Australia are that the sun was shining. I don't know whether the sky was clear or not, but certainly it was always sunny. I don't know what I was wearing on this particular occasion, but probably a skirt: even from a very early age I always preferred to wear skirts or dresses. My memory is of bare feet with dust beneath them: that delightfully dry, powdery soft soil that scrunches between your toes and leaves your feet lightly coated. I'm standing near the edge of the garden, by the fence. It's a tall fence, wooden. There are some trees along the boundary, making it shady. What I remember is the face of the child next door suddenly popping up over the edge of the fence, surprising me. She was a little older and taller than I was, and the fence was the right way around for her to scale. I think we must have played together quite a lot, because I have other memories of her from that time too.My other early memory of that garden is of climbing a tree. The tree was at the front of the property. I don't know what sort of tree it was, maybe a gumnut. In my memory it is a very tall tree - but really, it is probably only four or five metres tall. It seemed huge because I was only about three, but I absolutely loved climbing it. At that age I had absolutely no fear - I wonder when and why that disappeared? It's not like I do anything more challenging now. I miss living with that sense of adventure, of what might be possible. Anyway, again it's a gloriously sunny day, and I'm climbing in the tree - barefoot, reaching for a decent branch to get hold of, feeling the texture of the bark beneath my hands and feet. I'm wearing a skirt, of course, and I'm grinning from ear to ear: climbing always makes me smile. I look down, and Dad's standing watching me, encouraging me. He's young enough that his hair is still ginger, and bushy with curls. He's sporting a moustache, wearing old shorts and a t-shirt because he has been doing work, on the house or in the garden. He's grinning from ear to ear too, with a smile that's just like mine. I wonder why this one occasion has stuck in my mind. There's nothing special about it, no significance. I used to climb trees all the time, because I loved it. But it's only this one time that I can remember, and it's a good memory. I never fell and injured myself, never broke any bones. I was a very happy child back then.

Mum and Dad's memory of me in that garden is that I went through a phase of running out onto the front lawn to pee on it every morning.

The garden of our house in England was a magical place for me. Long and narrow, as a child of five to eight years old it seemed ginormous to me - but as an adult, I expect that I'd find it surprisingly small. The sliding doors of the dining room and the back door to the kitchen opened onto a courtyard paved with grey stones. We had a wooden picnic table there, and in summer would sometimes eat outside at it. Looking from the back of the house, the garage and driveway were off to the right, while on the left hand side was the back end of our neighbour's half of the semi-detached. Past the courtyard, stone steps lead up past three narrow terraced strips held in place with stone walls. Mum always kept flowers in those. I have particularly vivid memories of snapdragons, and of Mum showing me how to clasp a snap dragon flower carefully so that I could use my fingers to move the bud like the mouth of a dragon, snapping open and closed.

Beyond the terraces was the lawn, each side hemmed in with a low fence so that you could see into the neighbour's gardens on either side.

Where the terrace met the lawn sat a large heather bush, and throughout our time in that house I believed that this was the fairies lived. Sometimes I left presents for them, or notes: most notably, on the occasion when the tooth fairy forgot to come for several days. Mum still has the note, carefully crafted by an irate six year old who had been waiting three days for the "toth" fairy to show up! The bush also always made me think of my cousins in New Zealand, as one of them is named Heather.

At the back end of the garden was the most special part. A low step led up to a stand of oak trees. To me again these were huge, but looking back they were not very big really, still quite skinny through the trunk and only about 10-15 metres tall. A wooden shed sat to one side of these, with most of the trees sitting in a ring to create a small clearing. We had a see saw in the centre of the clearing. Not only did it go up and down, it also spun around on the pivot joint, marking out the arc of the grove. Off to one side was a climbing frame; while there were quite a few trees none of them were any good for climbing - I remember wondering what the point of trees was if you couldn't climb them.

The best feature though was the rope swing that Dad had built for us between two of the tree trunks. I have always loved swings, and it was an awesome feeling to soar and twirl out over that clearing, especially in the spring when the snowdrops, bluebells, and daffodils were all in bloom.

Having the oak trees at the back of the garden was fantastic, as they were full of red squirrels, which we would watch from the dining room each morning. Sometimes they would fight with the nesting birds and try to steal their eggs. If we were up in the attic, we had an awesome view across the whole backyard - but being little, I seem to remember that we had to climb up on a chair or Mum's desk to be able to see out the window!

We had been given a tepee by the neighbours, which their children had played in when they were little. We often used to set the tepee up on the lawn and play in it, tearing from it to the oak trees and back again. Occasionally we'd set up the normal tent on the lawn - a small green and red A-frame - and camp in that overnight. Such an adventure!

WIth the low fencing we could of course see into the neighbour's gardens as well. Looking towards the garden from the house, Audrey and John's garden was to the right. Mostly what I remember from their garden is their dog Flossy ambling slowly around it. She was a lovely soft chocolate and white springer spaniel, and occasionally my brother and I would attempt to throw a ball for her to fetch. She never did play fetch though, and I was always a little bit disappointed by her lack of enthusiasm and engagement.

On the left hand side lived Paul and Terry. I remember seeing them often in the garden, and talking to them - although about what, I can't remember. I was really taken with their garden as a child. I think I was impressed by the amount of work they seemed to put into it, and also that they had a vege garden. The vege garden was in the space at the back of the garden where the rest of the way along the street stood oak trees. I remember asking Mum about it, and she explained that the oak trees were all protected, so no-one could cut them down, but that someone before Tere and Paul lived there had cut them down before the rest became protected, which is why their garden was different.

Over the back fence was an allotment. I know that Mum explained to me what an allotment was, but I never really understood it. To me it always seemed like a depressing, dreary sort of a place, and I don't remember every seeing anyone doing very much with it. Maybe it's different now though.

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