Stepping out of her wash-house clutching a handful of rusty nails… she scuttled over to the hydrangea bushes and scattered them around the base of each.
‘That’ll keep them blue,’ she said with quiet satisfaction, beaming as she looked around her small front garden. This little woman, soon to be a widow although we didn’t know that then, was in the front garden of her house in Blackpool. This was probably the smallest house she’d lived in for many years… because Gran had been a former Blackpool landlady and a 1930s semi-detached on the outskirts of Blackpool was definitely just a small family house and not designed for ‘paying guests’.
She loved her garden… her hydrangeas in particular and tried her best to keep the flowers blue rather than the pink to which they were liable to revert. I don’t know whether the nails that she used around the roots worked or whether it was a property of the soil itself that made the difference… I am no gardener!
Watching her potter about with her plants was not something that interested me… but Gran herself was a woman I liked and admired immensely. She looked up and noted the looming grey clouds and said, ‘Come on, it’ll rain in a bit and I don’t want the washing to get wet,’ so we traipsed back to the small back yard and started to un-peg the washing to beat the rain. Afterwards she scooted indoors and I went to have a look in the wash-house at the back of the yard.
In the gloom I could see that she’d got packets of Rinso soap-powder stacked up along the back wall… there seemed to be hundreds of them! The old copper and the mangle stood there, clearly recently used as there was traces of damp on them… she still used these things. Not for her a washing machine… ‘They don’t get the clothes properly clean, y’know.’ In the corner her old ‘posser’ and washing dollie… I don’t think she still used these… but had kept them all the same. On the window ledge a little dish with her ‘dolly blue’ bags, made by Reckitts – used to whiten the whites! http://www.oldandinteresting.com/default.aspx
She wasn’t a woman who rested for long. Once when we’d arrived at her house my dad commented on the pointing work that had been done on the lower part of the house. ‘Ah, well, that’s the part I’ve done myself… I’ll get a man in to do the rest… but it keeps the cost down, doesn’t it?’
She’d used a step-ladder, at the age of about 65 or so and had pointed right around the house! Amazing woman!!
In the house itself the window-ledges were arrayed with plant pots with plants of every size… geraniums and various sizes of plants grown from lemon and orange pips! I don’t know if the fruit ‘trees’ ever reached any size, though, and they certainly hadn’t attained any substantial height when I saw them.
Many years after granddad’s death she had to have a replacement hip operation and moved in with my parents in Withington, Manchester as she could no longer cope on her own.
I was visiting on one particular day and she was seated watching an all-in wrestling programme on Saturday afternoon. She loved wrestling, apparently, and always knew just who was who and whether they were a ‘dirty’ fighter or not.
After a while, though, she had a stroke and was taken to Withington Hospital. I visited her and on approaching her bed she opened her eyes and, briefly, seemed to recognise me before slipping back into unconsciousness. I can still see the look on her face if I examine my ‘inward eye’.
So.. she died on 5th Aug 1984 in Withington Hospital, Manchester.
Minnie Shepherd – 28 Dec 1897 to 5 Aug 1984
My father’s mother, Lilian Lavinia was also a gardener and lived down in Maidstone, Kent. Although I can remember Grandma quite well, my memories are further helped by photographs of her in her later years.
She grew both flowers and vegetables in her long, narrow garden and loved nothing better than to talk about her Curly Kale and various other vegetables and how well they were coming along.
It wasn’t a ‘child-friendly’ garden, having just a tiny lawned area near to the house… and it seems now, looking back, that the garden maintained a similar layout as it might have done during the war. ‘Dig for Victory’ and the digging of the ground was mentioned in dad’s book
The flowers she loved to grow were Hollyhocks, tall and stately, and were ranged up against the fence at each side of the garden near to the house. Deep reds, burgundy, pink and white… and usually tied to the fence so that they wouldn’t be damaged in any strong winds.
Her vegetables were good and we used to eat them with our meals around her big table. I remember her always making custard after she’d got everything ready and storing it in a jug on the top of her old-fashioned gas cooker… but it always seemed just warm by the time pudding was served. Still, she was a good cook and my perpetual lack of appetite as a child was no reflection on her culinary skills.
At bedtime we used to troop up the bathroom, my sister and I, and be plunged into the huge bath. I was always a little frightened of the bathroom as it had a large gas boiler hanging on the wall (at the opposite end from the taps) and a great copper spout protruded from it where the heated water would fall into the bath below. It seemed like a piece of science fiction to me… and rather frightening as it roared whilst heating the water inside. I was always glad to be able to leave the bathroom and the horrible contraption that I felt sure would one day explode!
The last time I saw her she was visiting us with my parents when I lived in Farnham, Surrey and it was lovely to be able to have four generations together: Emily, me, my mum and grandma. Sadly she died in 1978 in Maidstone, Kent.
Lilian Lavinia Barfoot – 8 Mar 1898 to 21 May 1978
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Of-Stirlings-Stalags-air-gunners-ebook/dp/B00BU944AM – eBook
http://www.lulu.com/gb/en/shop/we-bill-goodman/of-stirlings-and-stalags-an-air-gunners-tale/paperback/product-20957547.html Paperback version