Saturday, 30 August 2014

My father the gardener

I come from a family of gardeners. My siblings tend their gardens, making them beautiful or fruitful, sharing with me crops of the biggest redcurrants you ever saw and generally humbling me when I consider the contrast with my pathetic efforts.

My father was a gardener too. Having fled Nazi Germany as a boy, he grew up in the Middle East and one of his various jobs was in a plant nursery, in a small village near, now a suburb of, Tel Aviv.
Maybe that was where he discovered his love of plants. His amazing memory categorised and stored their names, what was indigenous and what grew in which type of soil. Coming to England via Liverpool Docks as a young man, he ended up living near Kew Gardens and spent many evenings after work strolling the grounds and greenhouses, improving his knowledge of the exotic and the banal.

Growing up, we always had a busy, happening garden. There were seedlings, polytunnels, fabulous crops, plants going in, plants coming out, according to the season. Cuttings taken on holidays would be planted and nurtured at home, delight taken when against the odds they survived. Our garden was aflame with Cana lilies, before they became a staple of urban roundabouts; we tended fledgling coffee plants, figs and olives.

Personally, I preferred a book, a toy, or a water fight in the garden. Whenever I offered to help, I would be asked to weed; my heart would sink and I would slope off as soon I thought that I was unnoticed. My parents got around this by giving me my own little garden patch to tend. When I weeded that I didn’t mind so much.

In many ways, my father’s life story reflects the twentieth century history of Europe. He once said to me that as a displaced person, his garden was the closest thing to roots he had. Even when elderly, he managed it himself, trussing up tomato vines in the greenhouse, persuading his huge and eccentric lawn mower to cut his large lawn, and managing his roses. More recently, he took pleasure in just being, watching the leaves and buds unfurl, a new summer’s crop develop.

I will always think of him, walking up from the garden to the house, the sun on his back. May he be happy in his garden for ever.

Hans-Hermann Bertold Neustadt December 1925 - July 2014

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