There were three Graces in Greek Mythology: Aglaia, the Grace that symbolised Beauty, Euphrosyne, the Grace of Delight and Thalia, the Grace of Blossom. According to the Greek poet, Pindar, these enchanting goddesses were created to fill the world with pleasant moments and goodwill. My garden is certainly full of Beauty, Delight and Blossom at the moment, which set me thinking about how my three Graces would be personified.
Three wonderful women in my life have supported my gardening activities. I’ll call them my garden “Graces” as they’ve all inspired me with their creativity, charm and beauty in their passion for gardening, and although one of them is no longer on this earth, I think of them all every day as I work to make a garden as beautiful as theirs.
The first Grace was my mother. She loved plants and taught me many of their names before I was even as tall as her knee. My first word practically, after “mama” was “aquilegia” apparently. Unfortunately, this precocious and probably not very endearing tendency, to remember complicated plant names from a very young age has not remained with me and I am far more likely to call a plant a “Whateveritis” or “Thingmebobus” nowadays. My mother loved wild flowers in particular and I did manage to learn all the common names, which fascinated me such as “milk maid” and “wet-the-bed”, “lords and ladies” and “cuckoo pint” just a few of the local names in the Wye Valley area. I often wondered how they got such strange monikers, but no one could tell me the origins. My mother used to keep her four children amused on long walks by helping us to identify the names of plants and trees and their properties. She was a lover of roses and flowering shrubs and as we were growing up, the garden blossomed under her hand. She was quite a wild gardener, straight lines and neat beds were an anathema to her and that sense of an abundant cacophony of plants is something I always loved in her gardens. She was also a fan of variegated plants, which I am not so sure about in my own garden, but then, I am not my mother.
My second Grace, we’ll call her Mrs Grace, was a plants-woman. She wanted them all, every one in the world. She loved plants with a passionate greed, she knew all their names and origins and just had to have any plant she fell in love with. I first met her when I was a student in London, where she was a mature student on the same course as me. She had seven children and came to be a very special friend to me, almost like a second mum, and I watched her create gardens in all of the nine houses she had during our friendship, either in UK and Portugal. Mrs Grace loved colour, colour was her passion and she would literally paint with her plants. In her English garden, pillar roses would intertwine with a huge variety of clematis as they romped all over the apple trees. Tiny violas would raise their purple and yellow faces to the sun amongst brightly coloured anemones in her English gardens as Spring arrived. “Look at their dear little faces!” She would exclaim with a joy which was infectious. She would stop to point out clumps of Dutch irises, one of her particular favourites. She was particularly fond of Iris hollandica “Tiger’s Eye” and it was one of the first plants I put in my Portuguese garden here. The colours are exquisite.
Mrs Grace was our reason for coming to Portugal, as she bought a house here in the 1990s and encouraged us to come too. She loved the bright colours she could use in her garden here and it was a great sorrow to her that she had to return to the UK because of ill-health, before she could help with my Portuguese garden. Sadly, she died a few years ago, but every day, I hear her voice as I walk around the garden, encouraging me here and chiding me there, just as she did in life. When I feel sorrow if I have to move a plant, I hear her saying “Well, you have to break an egg to make an omelette, you know” or “You need to have some brighter colours in that corner over there. What about a nice purple clematis or some Bougainvillea?”
The third inspiration is my neighbour. Dona Gracia. Born in a South American country, and living in Holland now, she loves tropical and exotic plants and her Portuguese garden allows her free rein to grow them. Plants love her, they almost reach their tendrils to her for her touch. If they haven’t flowered for her, she gets very cross and threatens them with the chop and invariably they comply and bloom for her. I don’t think any plant would dare not to flourish for her! Her garden sings with Hibiscus and Frangipani plants, giant Agapanthus and all kinds of exotic magic. She is generous with her plants and gives me all sorts of wonderful cuttings, as well as plenty of encouragement. Her garden is inspiring and although plants don’t perform for me like they do for her, I am working on it.
So Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia in the form of these three lovely women, follow me about the garden, as well as the hens, the cockerels and the cats as I look in wonder this Spring at how the plants are developing. Beauty, Delight and Blossom in abundance!