Farewell to Somerset (Again)

View of the sunset from our window at the Shrubbery Hotel

Dear Readers, I have already said goodbye to Somerset once, but here we are again, still sorting out my Aunt H’s house. A lifetime of 93 years gives ample opportunity to accumulate ‘stuff’, especially when you are interested in family history and local history and all matters church-related. And so we headed down to Broadway this morning to sort out the kitchen and to prepare for all the paperwork that will need to be signed tomorrow. While John went off to collect the keys, I had a chance for a walk around the garden. I would say a ‘final’ walk around the garden, but clearly that would leave a hostage to fortune.

The foliage on the shrub below is gradually turning scarlet, and there is a fine crop of berries, but what on earth is it? I would have said some kind of berberis, but those long fruits are confusing me somewhat. Let me know what you think, gardening people!

There has been a lot of judicious pruning in the garden and it’s looking in much better shape than it was.This Viburnum is in full flower and I could smell its sweet scent from ten feet away. What a boon to a winter garden this plant is! I wonder if I could squeeze one in.

Viburnum bodnantse

The white periwinkles have come back, having been strangled by the bramble. I love their pale, star-like flowers.

There is a fine Hawkshead fuchsia, another plant that I’ve been thinking about trying – in fact I might nick a cutting and see how it does. I’m sure Aunt H would have approved.

And the cyclamen are in flower. I love the way that they carpet the ground under the shrubs, to be replaced by the snowdrops and primroses and crocuses in the spring.

Whatever happens to the house, I doubt that the garden will be a priority for anyone – the garden is large, the cottage is small, and at the very least I imagine someone will want to extend. Even if they don’t they will probably want to change the garden into something else, as people always do. I hope that they give it a year so that they can see what’s already there, but folk are in such a hurry these days. It makes me think of what might happen to my resolutely idiosyncratic garden when we move, or when I die – no one with small children will want a massive pond, and I suspect that the days of the inconvenient whitebeam and the prickly hawthorn will be numbered too. But if this year has taught us anything it’s that the future is out of our control. Who knows what will happen? It’s certainly not worth worrying about.

As I go through Aunt H’s belongings I am struck by her frugality, and how much it chimes with the mood today – the desire to recycle, to reuse, to save things ‘for a rainy day’. There’s a jar full of bottle tops. There are plastic Stork margarine containers, used and reused over and over again to store soup and stews for freezing. I find jars of chutney from ten years ago, and boxes full of buttons. There’s much to learn from a generation that had to make things last and was reluctant to waste things. If we were all a bit more like Aunt H our beaches might not be full of plastic bottles and crisp packets and wet wipes. I’m pretty sure that Aunt H never utilised a wet wipe in her life, and if she had I have a suspicion that she’d have washed it and hung it out to dry somewhere.

Back in our hotel room, I watch the sun go down, and realise how rarely I allow myself to do such a thing. Tonight, the sun is painting the edge of the clouds with a light as sharp as one of Aunt H’s knives. She had knives for everything, most of them past their best, all of them kept in case they’d be needed again. It is hard, putting aside the remnants of a life. But our things are not us, though they sometimes tell our stories. Aunt H trod more gently on the earth than most of us, though she also trod on the toes of those who didn’t adhere to her standards of behaviour. Like all of us, she was complicated. She drove me to distraction on occasion, but I miss her, and so do many other people. She has left a hole in the village and church community that it will be very hard to fill.

6 thoughts on “Farewell to Somerset (Again)

  1. Anne

    Your description of sorting reminds me vividly of sorting through my mother’s house: carefully folded paper wrapping, string, buttons, bits of wool, cardboard … you name it. Mind you, I am slowly trying to lighten the future load awaiting my children – now scattered – and it is surprising just how much ‘stuff’ we have accumulated over the years!

  2. Fran & Bobby Freelove

    You’re right on the plant, it is a Berberis, we have several in the garden and they make a lovely show with their berries.

  3. Ann Bronkhorst

    So much here that speaks to me, of my mother, of her life and death, and now of myself. Wise words about the things that are not us but sometimes tell our stories.

  4. Liz Norbury

    I take your point about there being no point in worrying about what will happen to your aunt’s garden, or your garden, in the future – but I must admit that I was shocked and saddened to watch my parents’ garden being brutally bulldozed and turned into a building site by the new owners of their house (I drive past it nearly every day). The pond and the palm trees, the rhododendrons and the camellias, the hedges and the secret paths …all gone, as though they were never there. I’m glad, at least, that Mum’s roses were all in pots, and could be easily moved to the garden of her care home, where she was able to enjoy them for the last four years of her life.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      There might be no point in worrying about it, but I would be horrified too! I haven’t gone past the bungalow where Mum and Dad spent their last years for just this reason, although village gossip has it that the roses are being very well looked-after. And yes, how glad I am that your Mum was able to enjoy her roses. So many people seem to want to double the size of their houses and add multiple car parking spaces when they buy an old house. Makes me wonder why they don’t just buy a different house sometimes…..

      1. Liz Norbury

        Yes, I’ve wondered why these people bought my parents’ house. They clearly didn’t like it, any more than they liked the garden, as it’s been totally redesigned!

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