This is the story of two gardens and a marriage.
The first garden is a small, rather ordinary walled garden in suburban north London that surrounds three sides of a brown-brick Victorian end-of-terrace house – our house – the house we have lived in for the last 12 years – the house our children have left. It has been a typical English domestic garden for over a century, cultivated continuously through two world wars. An air raid shelter in the garden excavated 15 foot deep into the London clay beneath the vegetable patch and lined with concrete sheltered a family of four during the blitz. It had begun to feel like an unexploded bomb.
The second garden is a vast rolling hilltop in Andalucia that has never been a garden. In fact, it had never really been anything. A local farmer had planted a few olive and almond trees, but it was essentially a plateau of untouched scrub sitting on the top of a conical hill, parched by the heat of southern Spain and quietly minding its own business. Then we came along and bought it, thinking that if we were to create from scratch a romantic Persian garden, it might save our marriage. It was just before our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, when I, feeling lonely and not a little menopausal, demanded of my husband “You’re an architect, right? So where’s my house?”
The Gardens that Mended a Marriage relates the frustrations over seven years of struggling to impose our design upon nature and each other: sculpting the Andalusian landscape only to see it washed away in torrential downpours, hopelessly divining for water to dig a well in the wrong place, planting trees and shrubs that died because we had expected them to live on bare rock, discovering that several times a year a 100 mile an hour wind blows most of the sand from the Sahara and dumps it on our fragile new saplings, and trying to obtain legal permissions from a planning department terrified of signing off an application that might land them in jail.
In the meantime, our stoical London garden slowly evolved from something fairly ordinary into something quite beautiful, able to sustain our family in fruit and vegetables and provide a haven from our professional lives. The ways in which these two gardens needed to be nurtured couldn’t be more different. None of the approaches used in London worked in Spain and we had to learn how to garden again from scratch.
But in struggling to understand how to create these gardens in their diverse natural landscapes, we learned how to repair our marriage. We came to respect our individual human natures more and learn how to nurture rather than control each other. We began to work with the soil of each other, to appreciate how and when each needed water and food, what to cherish, what can be brought on and what to let die.
The work is not done. It never is with gardens. It doesn’t even end when you sell up or die; the responsibility for caring for it just passes to the next generation. So it is with these two gardens. They will be places where our children bring their children; to the big old house in London where they grew up, left home and returned again to borrow a bicycle pump or collect their old CDs, and to the new Persian garden in Andalucia where they will teach their children to lie under the stars and watch out for the eagles and wild boars.
And maybe even repair their own marriages.”