Updated: Jul 2, 2021
When I was seven years old, I moved with my mother to an end of terrace house. It was a small, but perfectly formed little Welsh miners’ cottage; a two up, two down with a kitchen and bathroom extension at the back. Being the last in a row of four houses meant it had the best garden and the addition of a side plot where the boundary met the main road. We had moved there from a grey, concrete 1970's council estate which despite its community intentions had become a hot spot for burglaries. Our flat had huge windows looking out onto a view of the valley, but there was no garden. And so, moving to a home with its own green space was a big change for a little girl.
I vividly remember the day we visited it for the first time, it was during my school lunch break and I thought it was a very special place. It was clear that the previous owners loved their home, with its pretty pink exterior and cosy coal Aga, the bedrooms with their view of the playing field and huge oak tree and window-seat-thick walls. Everything about it felt fresh and it would be the start of a new chapter in my life.
But it was the garden that captured my attention the most, the position of the plot overlooking green hills and fields, with its own gate and path leading to the front porch. There was a small lawn bordered by a hedge and a beautiful tall lilac tree. Opposite this was a rose garden, which I found to be too thorny and prickly to play in. At the end of the main garden, tucked into the corner, was a small brick-built coal shed and toilet, and it was here, along the path that I discovered the most beautiful scent.
Clumps of green foliage grew thick and full, with little white bells hidden amongst them. I had never seen anything like it before or smelt such a heavenly smell. They were Lily of the Valley and to me, they were magical. I would walk along the path, trailing my hand to touch them and ruffle the fragrance into the air. They remain one of my favourite flowers and the scent takes me back to my little Welsh cottage garden.
Gardens have always been important to me. My first family home had a lovely green lawn and lots of bright orange Montbretia. I have old Polaroid pictures of me as a baby sat on the grass, against a backdrop of orange and green. I vaguely remember the borders around the grass, filled with flowers and a Tree of Heaven swaying in the breeze above.
I have faint early memories of my Nannies garden, again at the rear of a small, terraced house. It was full of colourful sights and sounds, and as a four-year-old I remember being fascinated and slightly terrified by the bumble bees. When she moved to her own council flat, she ensured that her little patch of earth was full of sweet peas, snap dragons and lots of other plants I was too young to know the names of.
Flowers have become markers in my life, holding precious memories and highlighting specific moments in time..
A childhood spent mostly outdoors is full of flowery tales and make believe. The flourish of new daisies in the fields as the weather warms up reminds me of sitting on the grass after school making daisy chains. Buttercups were always held up under chins to see if the person liked butter or not. Clover would be picked and plucked, sucking the sweetness from the petals. And if you picked a dandelion – you would ‘wee the bed’ that night!
As a teenager, roses were full of romance. Now I love them for their scent and often walk through our local park, smelling their heady fragrance, treading carefully through the beds, much to the dismay of the park warden! I love the colour of roses too, especially the slightly old fashioned peachy pinks. Sunflowers remind me of a train journey through central France, aged nineteen, on my way to live and work with a family for a summer. I had only seen sunflowers that big in paintings, they were so tall - and there were fields upon fields of them! Orchid, delphinium and hydrangeas filled my bouquet, the Chapel and the guests’ tables at our wedding. Irises remind me of my mother, they were the last bunch of flowers she gave me before she died. And I cannot help but love the flamboyance of gladioli, and their association with Dame Edna Everage!
And what of my love for Lily of the Valley. Well, I wanted to have them as my wedding bouquet, but unfortunately, they are not in season in August. So, instead I have planted my own at home, right by my front door. They are a nostalgic reminder of childhood memories and the gratitude I have for the flowers in my life.
I'd love to know what flowers mean to you, if you have a favourite or special memory of a specific bloom. Let me know in the comments below or on my Instagram @iamsarahalexcarter
Image via Unsplash