Having moved in during August, it was October half term before we unearthed the pergola. The weeds – nasty ones, like brambles and nettles – stood so high that we fought our way towards the back fence square foot by square foot, freeing an odd litany of treasure and rubbish along the way. Old goal posts. Hundreds of bricks. Two wheelbarrows with holes rusted right through them. A lizard, rehomed in the then-new wildlife area. And, one day, a pergola.
Of course, we knew it was there. We could see its upper half, swathed in something green, drowning in the chaos. But it was a surprise, nonetheless, for Ben and I to finally find a paved floor and that wisteria twining strongly up its legs. (Though not as much of a surprise as Fliss had, upon mishearing that we’d found a burglar in the garden.) We decided it called for a celebration, in the form of a very English whatever-the-weather picnic. Ignoring the shivers and chills, the fact that there weren’t enough seats, that there was no table at all and that we were surrounded on three sides by prickles and stings, it was just lovely. A pergola, at the bottom of the garden. How wonderful.
Once conquered, it was abandoned as we marked out the new fruit patch with what was once a rockery. We ignored it as we dug the veg beds, and laid paths of all those bricks discovered in the autumn. We turned our backs on it as we dug holes for the gooseberries, and slipped the eager raspberries into slits cut in the earth. And in the spring, while I sowed and hoed and weeded, the stone floor gradually grew green once more with docks and grass and nettles.
Then, as every spring about this time, it came into its own. The wisteria, as if it knew just what was wanted, grew little leaves which let the sunlight through, then trailing bunches of soft blooms like floral grapes: hints of exotic luxury and warmth. We slung a hammock in its listing frame, and when summer came the leaves grew thicker, to shade us from the glare. Encouraged by the cooling autumn winds they fell and let the warming sunlight in again.
I have a thing for this hard-won little spot. After a bout of weeding, it’s the best place for a pot of tea. It’s where the children loll and eat their ices once they’ve cycled home from school. Where I munch my solitary weekday lunches, where John might read the paper on a lazy afternoon. A private place, used only by our family. Big enough for one, or two, or three who don’t mind getting cosy.
And on a late spring evening after a day’s work in the garden it’s the only place to be. A glass of wine, some handwork in my lap, I might lie back and just admire the blossom. From where I sit, the beds spread out before me. The fruit lies to my right. Beyond the brassicas Ben is playing with the chickens, and Ilse rides her bike across the lawn. Seb is watering his artichokes, again. Through the kitchen window I can just make out Fliss’ outline, doing something at the sink. Soon John will be home, and I hope he’ll come and join me. Until then I’ll just admire the garden: our own little kingdom of green, best viewed from under a pergola.— June 2, 1931