by Helen Elliott
We decided to downsize. The children had left, the dogs had died, as had one cat. The other was thinking about it. The garden, my adored, beloved garden was making me anxious and there was the problem of Upstairs. Upstairs, where the children had lived so happily all those years was now where I hurled anything I didn’t use but was too lazy to pitch out. Or sentimental. Upstairs was over my head. I never went there if I could help it but it hovered, symbolic of a paralysing weight .
So why not sell when someone knocked on the door, said they were in love with your house and garden and here’s an offer you can’t refuse. We didn’t. In three months we were in a flat.
Oh. What do you do with a grandchild in a flat? Sure, we could walk in the Botanical gardens, find playgrounds, sit in cafes, go to museums. But something was shockingly out of kiltre. These lovely places were public, not personal. I couldn’t say: “Grandma planted that kolkwitzia twenty years ago”. Why was I waking in tears every morning, dreaming of my old garden? And why did I feel my hands and feet were cut off, disabled by my inability to step out onto the earth and into that intimate natural space I had been creating for over two decades?
Life is change, I know this. But my change was in the wrong direction. I heard that word “de-natured” and everything made sense. Without nature at my door I was a shadow of myself. It made me think hard about nature in the lives of my small grand children.
Two years, two flats later we decided to upsize. An acre, a tranquil house, a stream, a pond, a vegetable garden. I have never been happier. And the grandchildren know about this thrilling thing called The Country.
Helen Elliott is a thoughtful and analytical reader, informed and soulful writer and unyielding literary critic for many Australian newspapers. She is also a dedicated gardener.