Whilst I’m on the track of secret woods, paths and buildings this week, it seems an appropriate moment to post on a topic which has been at the back of my mind for a few weeks now.
It is a story of a rather special garden created with love and perseverance in the face of adversity and physical and mental disability, and is thus the sort of achievement which ought to be recognised, but won’t be unless I write about it here.
It is my sister’s garden. She was born in the early sixties with what I now know is called Rubella Syndrome, but back then, it was just an exhausting list of physical and autism-related disabilities, including severely impaired vision, profound deafness, a heart murmur and communication and mobility challenges. Despite her limitations, she has always displayed wonderful creativity, producing over the years a range of painting, drawing, crafts, embroidery and textile art. She has never had a formal art lesson in her life, so her output in the circumstances is nothing less than extraordinary.
A few years ago, she acquired a garden. It is an unusual garden: it is a tiny little plot at the far end of a group of little plots of land belonging to a row of terraces set back from the gardens. My sister’s plot was unpromising and had suffered neglect. She knew nothing of gardening, and it is a mystery how she taught herself what she needed to know, but she managed in the way she has always managed to educate herself. Despite being functionally illiterate for the purposes of this form-ridden world, she has a capacity second to none to extract information from text and pictures with the limited vision of her one partially sighted eye.
So she began to cultivate this little patch of land. She has limited patience for most things in life except her creative endeavours, and gardening of course demands patience with hard work at a demanding level. The garden however began to flourish. A verdant rambling oasis amidst the bare grassed plots all around. Shrubs and trees planted slowly matured, climbers wove their way through a small pergola. My sister justifiably was very proud of what she was achieving.
And then disaster struck. The land adjoining the small gardens was sold for development to a builder. The builder, in a cost-cutting exercise, decided to use a 300 year old dyke surrounding and draining the adjacent land as a ready-made trench for the foundations for a retaining wall. As winter and bad weather approached, the consequences were inevitable: my sister’s garden and that of her neighbour (a blind man, just to add to the poignancy of it all) were subjected to constant flooding. It became impossible to grow anything, and much of the planting was adversely affected. The builder didn’t want to know: neither did the planning department. Nobody in fact was in the slightest bit interested. My mother (my sister’s full time carer) tried every avenue to no avail. Eventually, at her own expense, a new drainage ditch was dug.
A few years on, the flooding is resolved, and the garden is once again flourishing. I was there a few weeks ago, and it was a magnificent sight. I am in awe of my sister’s talents. I am moved by how much she achieves despite her severe disabilities. And I am saddened but unsurprised that other people who could have helped when it mattered should have been so unmoved by her plight. In this big society, full to bursting with political correctness, there are still a lot of people out there who just don’t care.