Last autumn my father sadly passed away, aged 91. On this day in June, which celebrates fathers everywhere, my heart goes out to all those friends who have also lost parents, some very recently and some a very long time ago.
For Father’s Day, I’d like to share some of my memories of my fantastic father, around three of his boundless attributes: his creativity, his patience and his energy.
The creative father.
My father had an extraordinary flair for doodling. His line drawings comprised of exuberant swoops, elegant curves and poignant points… each element neatly resolved in the context of the others, to create a pleasingly tasteful, miniature work of art. I grew up surrounded by these transitory doodles, for they adorned scraps of paper, the margins of old magazines and the family’s legendary wipe-clean-formica kitchen table.
On occasion he would render unseen versions of his drawings into a third dimension, using pieces of balsa wood or lumps of chalk to create small organic sculptures. He was a master at creating small models, from sailing boats and strings of cars pulled by electric motors, to functional ranch houses for my toy cowboys, to elegant dolls houses for his grandchildren.
In my forties and being slightly too old for a dolls house, he very kindly made me a beautifully crafted, self supporting flight of stairs complete with a handrail, one tenth scale, which he thoughtfully named Aspirations to inspire his young son.
He also worked on a larger scale, cutting holes in floorboards and walls to make the family’s labyrinthine cellar and creating a cavernous wardrobe from scratch in the master bedroom.
His love of creative swoops and curves also clearly manifested itself in his amazing garden which, though based on the paths that my elder siblings beat through the originally-untamed-undergrowth when they were young, he carefully crafted so that edges and levels resolved into one another in a most harmonious way.
I’ve come to realise that gardens are transitory, dynamic entities. Like the gardeners who create them, they are ever-changing and they actually exist in all their different states at the very same time… at least in our minds… a kind of organic pastiche of all their various forms, overlaid on top of one another.
For example, as you look down through small shrubs and across the different lawns, you can see a beautiful 30 foot cherry tree at the bottom of the garden, grown from a cherry pip by my siblings… the cherries are mouthwatering, like the raspberries, blackcurrants and apples grown in that part of the garden.
I can picture the cherry tree clearly, though it was removed to make way for a greenhouse at least 20 years ago, a structure which itself is now completely hidden from view by mature trees and shrubs.
In the same way, I can still picture my father, back then when he used to work for a living, engrossed in crafting his garden at the weekends, making stuff in his subterranean workshop, or simply creating swirling doodles on the kitchen table. I’m certain that it is this creativity that has driven my own passion for abstract art and quirky homemade furniture.
The patient father.
Twenty-five years ago, when I bought my first house, my father eyed up the garden as a blank canvas on which to grow a masterpiece, but I was too young, naive and impatient to appreciate his vision. Instead I defended the two boring patches of grass and empty patio with a metaphorical pitchfork. He just smiled and acquiesced.
Many months later he offered me some pots for my patio (amongst which I remember there was a tall bamboo and a bright yellow Mexican orange), which brought a little colour & texture to my otherwise bland, adolescent garden. More than a year later again, he casually observed that the plants had started to outgrow their pots and wondered whether I might like to plant them in the garden… and put some new, smaller plants in the original Trojan horse pots.
Over the course of fifteen years and with ongoing paternal guidance, the area of grass in the back garden diminished in size by a half and disappeared entirely in the front.
Over the same period yet another budding Foster-gardener had been patiently tended and allowed to slowly develop towards maturity, like an animated, human version of the deliciously complex wine that he created over the years and that we still look forward to drinking, on special occasions.
Much later I came to realise that gardening is as much a manifestation of patience as it is about an understanding of botany. His boundless patience is obvious from the tranquility of his garden, the sheer scale of the plants, many of which were originally grown from seeds or cuttings, and the gardens of his children, each with their own inimitable style.
As I was writing this I was curious about the effect of just one of the many, many seeds that he patiently grew in my mind… I walked out into my garden to count eight Mexican orange plants of different sizes, some huge, and twenty-five pots or clumps of bamboo, all bar two of which have been grown from that original gift in 1991… which in turn had come from a vast bamboo clump, grown by him from a small cutting that he had been given, maybe twenty years before that.
The energetic father.
The garden at my parents house is 100 feet long, with a path that winds ever downward into the valley, like a temporal thread that sews its way through my mind and back to my earliest memories. Even the top of the garden is effectively two storeys below the sitting room and the bottom yet another two vertical storeys further down.
And yet, if my father spotted a cat in the garden, he would run from the sitting room, leap down two flights of stairs and chase the feline miscreant on down the path until it disappeared, chastened, into the undergrowth. He would then casually return to his initial elevated vantage point, having hardly broken a sweat, where he would resume drinking his tea and admiring the beautiful view.
This boundless energy was put to other uses too, such as endlessly returning my pedal car to the top of the garden so that I could delightedly whoop my way down again, or taking us on adventures to explore ancient castles, English counties and foreign countries.
No sedentary beach holidays for us… our holidays involved going places, camping out, climbing mountains, doing stuff. His energy was infectious and it flows on through his children, and clearly through his grandchildren too.
It is all too easy to be sad when someone who is really important to us passes away and this is clearly the case with my father… no more can we tap into his encyclopaedic memory of plants and gardening tips, no more will he be a conversational sparring partner, no more beaming blue-eyed smiles of delight when you turn up unannounced.
But sadness is not something that I associate with my father. Instead it is his quirky creativity, his boundless patience and his sheer energy that come to mind and live on through each of his children, in our slightly unconventional mindsets, and in the crazy ideas and endeavours that he helped us to seed.
And I like to think that he is now able to be everywhere at the same time, spending his days with each of us, and most especially when we’re outside, working in those transitory, dynamic, organic spaces that we call our gardens.
I for one am extremely grateful for having known this remarkable man and for having had such a unique and fantastic father.
To my Dad, Happy Father’s Day.