“Always remember that success isn’t just about personal growth. It’s about how you inspire others to grow along with you. It’ll give you immense happiness if, with empathy, you succeed in making a positive difference to another life. And, no joy can be as fulfilling as that.” With a proud smile on her face, Jean looked at her teenage granddaughter Tina.
Tina was in her finishing year at the university and loved to spend time with her granny. Unusual though, of teens of her age, yet, she made sure, to set aside a few hours each weekend. The tales from her granny’s childhood interested her much. Amongst all, what she liked most was to spend time in their garden. She grew up watching her grandma spend the whole day in there. Grandpa often expressed his childish jealousy about her biased nature. It seemed as if she loved the plants more than her family. Jean was passionate about gardening. Not just plants, she even had a dedicated corner for the teeny-weeny insects. There were lady-bugs, praying mantis, green lacewings, bees, among several others. She was relentlessly vigilant and ensured to keep the notorious pests away. It was her world, and she made sure to keep each one within it, healthy and happy.
1964 it was when Jean was married off to a guy from a faraway city. She was just 19 then. The very idea to be away from her parents terrified her. Then there were her siblings, friends, her beloved cat Iggy, the plants of the kitchen garden…phew, it was too much for her to let go of. Her pleas to her parents went in vain. William, the groom, was educated, earned a handsome income and belonged to an esteemed family. Off she went to settle at a new place, with the stranger as her husband.
Jean was awestruck as they stepped inside her new house. It was enormous. Antiques adorned the luxurious interiors. Carpeted floors, leather couches and beautifully decorated rooms stupefied her. She was told that the lands she could see till the horizon, belonged to them. There was a farm on one side where they reared horses and a shed for other cattle, that they kept for milk and meat. They were only two to live in that house with a handsome Blue Heeler and two maids. The house had 12 rooms with a well-set verandah on each floor, a study room, a sitting room for guests but not enough members to stay in. Jean found the beautiful two-storey ancestry residence, a bit eerie, and once her husband left for work, she made sure to keep one of the maids by her side. William found it funny and often teased her with spooky tales.
Jean grew up in the countryside, in a family of 8, with no comfort and luxury. Her father was a simple farm-worker, and her mother took care of their household. They lived mostly on bread and porridge. The house and the faces within glowed only during Christmas as the buttermilk and cookies then brought joy to their soul. Jean used to help her mother with a few chores and took care of her younger siblings. She doted on the plants in their kitchen garden and felt euphoric seeing them bloom. To her, it was an achievement no less than winning a badge. Ever since she was a child, she felt a strange bond with nature.
From the simplest of living to a life of extravagance, Jean felt a bit nervous. With not much household task to perform, she often went to stroll in the hayfields. She was fascinated by the superfluous land they had, though most of it remained unused. She wondered why but hesitated to ask. William was a good man and behaved soberly at all times, yet she hardly spoke to him and usually replied with a nod. The very thought that she was a naive girl from a small hamlet, and he, a well-read man with elegant manners often made her feel awkward. The maids were friendly but never chatted out of their league. She missed her family and Iggy. Jean wondered if anyone was taking care of the plants in their kitchen garden. She wished she could have one at her new home.
The following morning, at breakfast, Jean mustered her guts and spoke up. “I have something to say if you may allow.” She said hesitatingly. Her tone was faint, yet the words were audible enough to startle him. William looked up and with a smile, said, “Yes, my lady. You may ask all to your heart’s desire.” Jean blushed scarlet and kept fidgeting with her skirt’s lace. To ease the situation, he asked her to speak fearlessly. She cleared her throat and said, “I would like to set up a garden in the backyard.” And quickly added, “In my leisure, once I am done with the household, and of course, with your consent.”
He put two sugar cubes in his tea and kept stirring it, silently. Jean said to herself, “It’s either today or never. I must not let this opportunity slip away.” She then spoke her heart out. William listened patiently. “Hmmm. What I perceived from your speech is that you love gardening. All you need is a corner in the backyard to start with.” She nodded her head in affirmation and added, “If you approve, I would like to start digging from tomorrow,”
William thought for a while, and replied, “Well, alright then. I will allow but with certain conditions. Firstly, I will assign our old man Daniel to help you with all that digging. He is quite an expert in farm work, and will be a helpful assistant.” She opened her mouth to object but chose not to. “Secondly, you must agree not to work in the afternoons. The scorching heat might give you seizures. Lastly, make a list of things you need to start the work. Tools, seeds, pots or anything you require. I will get them from town tomorrow.”
Jean was overwhelmed and thanked William for supporting. That afternoon she jotted all the things she would require and placed it on the study table. She spent the rest of the afternoon, in the backyard, planning. A delicious supper awaited for everyone. She wanted to celebrate the start and express gratitude to her man. The next day Daniel dropped by, and as they conversed, Jean was impressed with his knowledge. He was old, yet sturdy, and tanned with experience. They went around the backyard and planned for their first step.
The next day marked the era of a new beginning. With Daniel’s help, the work advanced with ease. William stepped in every Sunday to check the proceedings. His constant support was a blessing. She learnt a lot with each passing day. Every seed she sowed, matured into flowering plants. The vegetables and fruits from her garden were big and juicy. Everyone admired and appreciated her efforts. While in the garden, Jean spoke, caressed and laughed with the plants. At times, she even read out stories to them, for, she believed they could hear and feel. William thought she was losing her mind and sent for the doctor. The situation was hilarious. She spent her days working in the garden and the nights, she took care of William and the house. Gradually, the place turned into a cheerful household. The couples relation strengthened with time, and she felt blessed to have William as her husband. He brought several books on gardening, for Jean to learn more. With his love, care and support, she metamorphosed into a polished lady.
And by the Spring of ’65, they celebrated the bounty of a blooming garden and the arrival of a baby boy whom they christened Nathan. Every friend and family, each person from the neighbourhood was invited to the party. From men in suits to men dressed in tattered pants. If the crowd had ladies in bertha necklines, gleaming with diamond necklaces, it also had ladies in calico skirts and hobnailed leather boots. Fruits, steaks and salads were laid in abundance in long tables. From rare wines to local ale, nothing was missed. Together, they ate, drank and made merry. It was a grand party, and everyone joined in to bless and pray for baby Nathan.
Gradually, Jean expanded her garden and appointed additional help. She took Nathan and introduced him to each foliage. As the boy grew, she let him play with the plants and taught him to sow seeds. Finally, by Nathan’s first birthday, William agreed to get himself introduced to the members of their garden. Though he found it quite amusing, yet he couldn’t disagree with the fact that each seed she placed, bloomed to its fullest. Miraculously, a pretty garden matured in the wasteland. Each time he stood by the garden, the positive vibes refreshed his mind. Once he asked, “Jean, what secret ingredient do you use in your garden? Is there a genie in there? The soil…what extraordinary manure did Daniel mix?” Jean replied giggling, “Perseverance, compassion and love did all the magic. As I matured with your love and support, so did they, with mine. Alright, alright. Ours. Infact everyone has a share in it. I owe much to Daniel too.”
Over a period of 20 yrs, from a small backyard garden, it expanded to 12 acres of land area. There were segments for orchids, bulbs and ferns. A section for fruit trees and flowering plants. There were pallets where she grew strawberries. She even incorporated a thoughtfully designed garden patio. Stone benches, lanterns, red Crocosmia mixed with burgundy Dahlias were used to beautify the space. A large fountain welcomed visitors and birds to the garden. 20 hands joined together to help Jean, who tirelessly toiled at her passion. Nathan and William dropped by to help on weekends. Both men were proud of Jean, and for Jean, she was proud of her garden and family. With each ones love and support, she evolved into a complete woman.
“Now that Nathan has completed his studies and joined the firm, we must talk to him of his choice for a bride,” William mentioned to Jean one evening after supper.
Jean thought for a while. “You are right. He’s 23 and earning fair from his work. This might be the right time to talk to him.”
“Let’s ask if he befriended anyone yet, or else we can select a pretty lady for our handsome lad.” William smiled, eyeing at Jean for her reaction. Jean simply nodded in agreement.
“Do you have anyone in mind, Jean? Just in case our boy hasn’t got one.” William thought she might be knowing someone suitable as few young girls often visited the garden to study about the plants.
“Now that you mentioned, yes, I do have a girl in mind, but let’s talk to Nathan first.” Jean did not want to impose their choice on him.
“That is for sure, my dear lady. We will let our son choose his bride. For now, let’s call this a good night.” William softly kissed Jean’s forehead as she turned to say, “I love you, Sir William. Thank you for everything.”
And then, in the spring of ’88, Nathan got married to Portia, a charming lady from the neighbourhood and a regular to Jean’s garden. It was a grand event that hosted 3000 guests from all over the country. That day, the garden cheered with lights and laughter, chatters and giggles, blessings and prayers. The minister performed the charge, the bride and groom took the pledge, bridesmaids and groomsmen applauded with joy. As the groom kissed his bride, William took Jean’s hand and whispered, “Portia will make a good wife.” Jean muttered, smiling, “Nathan will be a good husband.” The ceremony continued for three consecutive days. People ate and drank their heart out. The couple was blessed and, the union rejoiced.
Once the honeymooners returned, Portia offered to help Jean in the garden. She was quite passionate like her mother-in-law, and keen to enhance her knowledge. She proved to be a good help for Jean. As the garden bloomed and stretched, so did the family, with time. The house witnessed their bond, and the person each grew up to. It saw them mature with age. Every nook of that abode looked bright and cheery. Within a year and a half, the family was blessed with a gorgeous little angel. They named her Christina. She was blonde, with rosy cheeks and the family doted on her. Friends and family joined in to welcome and bless little Tina(that’s what they nicknamed her).
After the 10th birthday, Tina was sent off to the best school in the country. Over the years, she visited the family home for vacations and spent most of her time with Jean, in the garden. Once they noticed her talking to the plants and teased her for picking Jean’s habits. Tina didn’t mind as she loved to be with the plants. She would sit for hours in the garden, reading books or playing her guitar. Her love for the foliage drove her to study Botany. Each time she returned, she assisted Portia and Jean in the garden. She pursued her studies in agriculture and proved to be a bright young lady of her batch at the university. The family loved and encouraged her in all she did. They were all proud of her.
As time passed by, Tina’s interest turned into a passion. Once her studies were over, she wanted to expand their garden and nagged Jean for advice and guidance. She always wondered of the secret to that blooming garden. And each time she asked, Jean laughed saying, “It’s a secret spell. I’ll share once you are ready.” It was during her last vacation that Tina finally came to hear about the success story behind that much-appraised garden.
“I was a simple girl from a far off village. My love for the plants led me to start a small garden in our backyard. With your grandpa’s support and Daniel’s help, I succeeded in setting up the area. As of me, I matured with knowledge and the plants, they blossomed with love and care. You see, love has its own charm. It can do wonders. I utilised my learning to bring the seeds to life. I cheered them, cracked jokes, and read out stories. I embraced them with love and encouraged them to fight adversities. They grew, together with me. I made a difference in my life by learning, and I succeeded in making a difference to those seeds whose future was uncertain. The farmers earned their living, the butterflies enjoyed the pollen, the friendly bugs got their prey, the birds nested on the trees and, the barren land breathed, relieved. The returns have been diverse.
Today, I am a happy and successful woman. And with me, all of you, my family, friends and strangers can enjoy the beauty of the place. You can relax in the shade, play in the meadows, walk on the velvety grass, watch the birds play in the fountain, and enjoy the fruits and flowers of the garden. I am thankful for everyone’s support, and the plants’ thank us by blossoming.” Jean’s face glowed with joy and pride as she concluded her story.
Tina kept staring at her granny, in awe. “You are an amazing woman grandma! I wish to be like you. I will try, for sure.” She grabbed Jean’s wrinkled cheeks and placed the sweetest kiss ever.
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