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Out of the mouths of babes… | Gardening advice

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One of the unspoken joys of an older man’s life is an ability to underestimate a son or daughter. Bear with me and I will explain.

Kala has lived near next door to us for a few years now. We see her in her garden. Watering mostly or cuddling her cat, deadheading roses, obsessing over greenfly, checking on her clematis. And then this year she started painting her fence. From neutral white to a deep, dark grey. Coat after coat. I was worried. It is a town garden with neighbours on all sides. My concern was it would shrink the space. Well, I was wrong.

Just before her mid-May birthday, I popped in for tea and biscuits and to arrange our day to sow. I gather flower seed for her through the year. I save and hoard poppy pods when I see them. I plunder a neighbour’s fading nigella.

When ordering calendula or beans and peas for the allotment for us, I add zinnia, cosmos, cornflower, tithonia, godetia, rudbeckia, larkspur, and our favourite chrysanthemum rainbow for Kala. There are always sweet peas for her corner, added sunflowers for height. There are jasmines, other climbers, many roses and perennial flowers. Pots abound. As I said, it is just a small garden.

Last week was our planning day. I brought chocolate florentines. Kala made tea. There were self-sown sunflowers from last year. Nasturtium seedlings sprouting everywhere. There was lush new turf found free on Gumtree. But the revelation was the darker fence.

Clever Kala has created a dramatic backdrop to her climbing flowers. A stark setting, too, for the crimson rose, the blue agapanthus, all the fresh green. But besides this, there is quiet, a new privacy. She has conjured a secret space. In the middle of a busy terrace in London’s Kentish Town.

My gardening daughter has outgrown me. I saw myself as Merlin, but the sorcerer’s apprentice has woven her own magical place. I couldn’t be more proud.

Allan Jenkins’s Plot 29 (4th Estate, £9.99) is out now. Order it for £8.49 from guardianbookshop.com



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