My Grandparents’ Garden – a memoir by Maria Kenny

My Grandparents’ Garden

Until I was seven my parents, four siblings and I lived with my grandparents. They had a diminutive front garden which was awash with flowers and resplendent rockeries as if it was parkland they lived in rather than a small house in a nondescript housing estate. The garden had a beautiful neglected feel to it as if it had been let run wild, but in truth was tended meticulously to seem that way. My grandmother was ahead of her time and ignored the bemused looks of her neighbours and instead focused on the admiring glances bestowed on her beloved flowers. Blossoms and hedges mingled with abandonment, creating vivid colours doused in balmy aromas. Stems of varying lengths rose to greet visitors, extending velvety petals, challenging any passer-by not to reach out and caress.

As a child I’d explore each crevice of the garden, my imagination constantly creating wonderlands for me to go to. Each bush was a place in a far off country I had only ever seen in my sister’s geography book; new places never before found till I Christopher Columbus discovered them. Hidden in each flower was a fairy who only spoke to me, who regaled me with tales of a wonderful kingdom below the garden which I was allowed to visit. I was wonder woman, I was the bionic woman, I was a fairy queen, and I was Ireland’s greatest explorer. I was anything I wanted to be when I entered the garden.

A small wall ran from the gate to the front door. It was on this wall I danced, imagining myself that Russian gymnast Nina that I had seen on our black and white television. The rough stone was coarse under my soft bare feet, toes curled in to maintain balance.
To fall was to bear the wrath of the multifarious rose bushes which were always forgiven as they constantly and ceremoniously released their mesmerising perfume into the air. To walk that wall was to achieve a small miracle, the scars of the triumph blazing on soft legs later that night.

In the centre of the garden stood a smaller circular flower bed, again surrounded by a small wall. This flowerbed held shrubs which never thrived due to the riot of roses blocking any chance of sun or rain. My grandmother refused to give up hope and when one managed to flower her faith rest would be restored resulting in a period of passionate dead-heading.

Up against the railing which restrained the wonderful wildness, was a row of wallflowers in an array of colours. In my memory bees forever seemed to be droning lazily around them, their buzzing hypnotic.

The rose petals were gently picked by my sisters and I in an attempt to capture their sweet-smelling scent in a bottle. They would linger lovingly in the bathroom sink steeping in tepid water until my father would demand their removal so he could shave. They would then be lost to the wilderness of our bedroom, found months later crisp and tarnished. We never achieved our goal.

As I grew bigger the garden seemed to decrease, but even in adulthood I could never walk up the path to the front door, instead always choosing the wall from my childhood fantasies. I would stand tall amongst the plants that had overpowered me years before, nostalgia and melancholy making me yearn for an innocence long gone. I would catch that same look on the face of my siblings. We never discussed our forays into the garden each hanging onto our own escapades and memories, knowing the time had passed for such conversations. It would seem silly and superfluous now.

By the time my grandparents died I had my own house and garden. Cuttings from their garden were well established in mine. It is said that smell evokes the strongest memories. The heady fragrance of roses and my grandparent’s garden is forever interwoven in my memory, transporting me back to the six-year-old adventurer I once was, safe and secure in my world, surrounded by love.

Their roses continued their encroachment of the garden in wonderful abandonment until the house was sold. The new owners had the garden cobble locked.

Maria Kenny has lived in Dublin all her life. She works with children with special needs in a primary school. Her short stories and flash fiction have appeared in journals in Ireland, the UK and Mexico. She was longlisted for the WoW award 2016 and was highly rated in the Maria Edgeworth Short Story competition in 2018. She is currently in the throes of editing her second novel.


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