What is a garden? For me it is made up of memories, people a sense of place - as well as beautiful plants of course.
I often feel that not many people understand my sentimentality when it comes to plants and gardens, so when I came across an account on social media by someone who has the same sentimental connections to a garden that I do - and they actually got to move in and keep it - I was hooked.
@Butterfliesinthegreenhouse, aka Claire was devastated when her beloved grandparents passed away. She had spent her childhood with them in their garden, learning about plants and flowers as well as spending days contentedly playing outdoors there. She couldn’t imagine that treasured garden being taken over by someone else and potentially being dug up, dismantled and changed, so I can only imagine her joy when the stars aligned and she realised she could move into the house and garden herself and continue their garden legacy.
Why was the garden so special to her? Childhood memories, she says, simply. So many of my special childhood memories are of the garden, and Claire, too, has abundant happy memories of being a child in that place. She remembers making rose petal perfume, and ‘cooking’ with old food from the compost heap (much to her grandmother’s frustration) but the memories also stem from simple togetherness with two precious people.
Visitors to her grandparents house knew never to ring the doorbell because they were almost always in the garden. Built in the 1950s her grandparents were the first inhabitants of this house in Cheshire. That meant they were also the first people to work the soil there, to imagine a garden and bring it into being by growing plants from seeds and cuttings, her grandmother laying paths and building raised beds for them to fill with flowers. Gardening wasn’t a hobby for them but a way of life.
When I spoke to Claire recently she talked about how time with her grandparents in the garden shaped her and and her love of gardening. While our parents are often busy worrying about the day to day things of life - getting the washing done, putting food on the table, school runs and a day job - our grandparents have time that can be used differently; they didn’t just nurture the plants in the garden but also Claire and her sister, taking time, showing an interest, quietly teaching and encouraging. While sowing seeds in the greenhouse with their grandchildren, they had also sown a love of gardening in Claire.
Her Instagram account @butterfliesinthegreenhouse isn’t about actual butterflies, but about the feeling of butterflies she gets in the space she spent so much of her childhood in and the special feeling of connection through time back to those happy days. I love this photo taken in her greenhouse, of all the relics Claire has found or dug up from the soil in the garden. The 19 foot long greenhouse is 72 years old, and the jewel in the crown of the garden - half the size it used to be but still plenty of space to continue the growing tomatoes.
Now that the garden belongs to her Claire still feels the presence of her grandparents there, along with their absence. Taking over a garden like this is a huge responsibility in many ways and to begin with she felt like a custodian - reticent to change anything and preserving everything just as it was. But gardens are for growing and now she is more able to see the next phase. She makes her own decisions about what to plant - like adding new threads to the tapestry of the garden - although she admits to still having quiet conversations with her grandparents, asking their approval for new projects or flowers while touching the leaves of their the trees or plants for connection.
With a mug of coffee in the early morning garden Claire sits and feels her grandparents spirit through the plants, the sunrise, the birdsong. There is a connection to nature and to history that is more than just the physical beauty of the plants themselves. This is something I can really relate to. I feel a sense of connection to my parents through the the plants that grow in my garden from their home; it is comforting and nurturing, and I feel that there is still something of our loved ones alive through those flowers.
Claire now has two children of her own as well as grandchildren who love spending time in the garden with her and so her grandparents legacy continues through the generations. Under some gravel in the garden Claire discovered some footprints set in the cement belonging to her grandparents, and family members - a beautiful physical reminder of their presence there, and another connection to those who are still so much there in spirit.
Her grandparents were avid photographers and would show slideshows of their garden to friends and family. She still has so many of those photographs as a record of how the garden has grown and changed throughout the years - she’s sure that if Instagram had been around then ‘they would have been all over it!’ In the same way, Claire posts photos of her own garden journey as a way of keeping track of the changing seasons and years.
Claire's is an account about the garden but also about what the garden means to her. It also happens to be a beautiful garden, too (especially if you're a hosta fan) so if you are interested in the connections gardeners have with gardens and sentimental garden stories you can find Claire on Instagram @butterfliesinthegreenhouse. See her beautiful garden photos and follow her lovely garden story for yourself.
Thank you to Claire for such a lovely chat on the phone - how nice to actually speak to someone you've 'met' on social media, and for letting me share her story.