Part of the problem with the garden here may well be the choice of completely unsuitable plants I attempt to grow. You'd think by now I'd have learned to do a bit of research and planning before buying, but no. This time every year I'm usually to be found in panic mode at the garden centre, madly filling the trolley with what looks pretty on the labels rather than more sensible choosing appropriate to challenging soil and light conditions.
We didn't have a garden when I was growing up. No one did. It was just streets and streets of terraced houses and shops, a designated slum clearance area (not that we knew that at the time) surrounded by heavy industry, and, apart from the schools' playing field, which was one helluva walk away from the primary school I attended and only used by each class a couple of times each year, not a blade of grass to be seen.
My dad did his best with terracotta pots of Turkish delightful rose and lemon scented geraniums on top of the frozen food freezer near the big glass window at the front of our shop (which was also our home) and that was about as much exposure to horticulture as I got. Not counting the snowdrops we attempted to grow in our class one time. I got to take home the bowl we'd planted (to be fair, there wasn't much competition to fight off) for the duration of the Christmas holiday. They didn't need much tending (unlike the class mouse my cousin got to look after the same school holiday) and they didn't grow. Not just over Christmas. They didn't grow at all. I can't speak for the mouse.
Every Sunday before evensong, Aunty M would take me on her weekly round of visits to some of her neighbours. The last call before we made our way across the market place to the church was to an elderly couple, the Ovies, who lived directly across the street from the house my gran and Aunty M lived in.
They were known universally by the shortened version of their surname, unlike certain others who had nicknames. Like Teacake Annie and Mucky Vera (who, it later transpired, was actually my dad's aunt on his mother's side). My gran and Mrs Ovie had fallen out and not spoken for quite some time. I never asked or discovered what it was about and clearly Aunty M didn't take sides or let it interfere with her Sunday schedule.
The best part about visiting the Ovies was being allowed to look in their back yard to see what was growing in the tubs (beer barrels, cut in half and painted to match the colour of their coal house door, or maybe just with whatever leftover paint was to hand) they'd planted.
Oh my word, there was no backyard like it. Not even my Aunty K, who worked as a cleaner at the Electricity Board in town and had a proper bathroom, had anything growing. In spring, the Ovies' tubs were bursting with gloriously yellow, easy to recognise, even by me, daffodils; in summer, well, I'm not sure what was grown, just 'flowers'. I remember I was so impressed, I drew a plan at some point (I used crayons and everything and I'm no artist) to bring some colour into our yard at the back of the shop.
Sadly, it was a plan that could never be implemented as our yard was much shorter and narrower than the Ovies', the sun never shone on it and it had to be kept clear of obstacles for the brewery deliveries (our shop was an off licence with a big red magnet sign hanging outside and no, my dad's name wasn't John Smith). Added to which our neighbour on one side had what seemed like hundreds of cats who used to congregate on our outhouse roof and who would no doubt have found their own use for containers full of soil. (Don't worry, I got over it and drew another plan for turning the outhouse where my parents stored sides of Danish bacon into a dance studio. Unsurprisingly, that was never implemented either.)
Since those days, and over rather a lot of years, I've had responsibility for three gardens, with a bit of help (not so much recently, he's obviously in his 'It's all yours' phase) from the mister with the heavy stuff. This current one is most definitely the worst, in every respect, though I'd be the first to admit there have been planting mistakes a-plenty in all three. Like the wisteria cutting someone gave us for massive garden number two that turned out to be a Russian vine with triffid-like tendencies and which, for some reason known only to herself, the then little Girlie used to approach sporting a quilted tea cosy on her head.
During an early doors supper with a friend last week, the conversation turned to growing stuff. This friend has a stunning garden, of which I am most envious, and, as usual, I bemoaned the state of ours. 'But why don't you fill the gaps with more of the plants that you know grow there?', asked my friend.
So that's what I'm concentrating on doing this year. Looking round, geraniums, foxgloves, geums and dicentras seem to survive so there'll be more of those in the places I can actually get a spade in, with an assortment of annuals (I'm really fancying some night scented stock) and maybe a tomato plant for the collection of pots.
Time, no doubt, will tell. In the meantime, I'll be keeping my not so green fingers crossed.