Now that the weather has improved and Spring is starting to feel like Spring again, I have been out working in the garden. Nothing impressive, I hasten to add – our suburban garden is usually a mess, and it is my husband who coaxes it into just enough order to grow vegetables. But we do have some fruit bushes and these come under my jurisdiction. At this time of year, I have to chop back the long grass and nettles threatening to engulf the bushes, so that when the fruit ripens, I will be able to get at it. After a few more weeks of sunshine (hopefully) I will be out collecting the fruit – gooseberries, blackcurrants, jostaberries, loganberries, rhubarb, all ready to be turned into something delicious.
So I will admit that I don’t spend a lot of time working in the garden. And yet when I do, it is quite satisfying; to see the patches of clear earth where weeds have been dug out, to rake up clumps of evicted nettles and bindweed, and to hack away dead growth to make room for fresh green shoots. In these moments, I feel like my character Marianne.
Marianne loves gardening much more than I do. Even though she starts from a place of knowing nothing, her first attempts instantly hook her in, engaging her with a passion that I, literally, have only imagined. She doesn’t give up at the first turn in the weather. She keeps going at what she starts and dedicates all her free time to it. To be fair, Marianne’s life is meant to be different to mine; when she first sees the garden, wild and in need of restoration, there is a hole in her own life and an ache to fill it. Not only does the garden soothe that ache, it becomes her obsession. I admire her, and real people like her, who turn their outdoor spaces into something beautiful. When I first started writing the novel, I knew I didn’t have enough knowledge on the subject to describe the garden or make Marianne’s devotion seem real. So I did a bit of research. I started visiting gardens and paying attention to the work that went into them. I read some books, both modern and historical, so I could back up Marianne’s work with genuine expertise. I think I was also hoping that some of the love would rub off on me, and that I too might become inspired to work a bit harder at creating a beautiful garden of my own one day. But the only thing I learnt was that gardening takes hard work and commitment, and I was already giving those things to my writing. So I let Marianne be the gardener, while I concentrated on creating a beautiful garden with words alone.
I have always viewed the garden in After the Rain as important as the characters in the story. It is as clear and distinct to me as the people I created to inhabit it. I don’t need to know great details about garden design or planting schemes to see its beauty in my head. The layout of it is as clear as if I had been there in real life; I can walk across the lawn, into the cool shade of the trees, listening to the babble of the stream, smelling the fragrance of the roses carried on the warm air. Sometimes, it so real to me that I can hardly believe that it doesn’t exist. But it is not just its appearance that is important to me. Just like Marianne, it offered me something when I needed it most, a plot device to fill a hole that had been holding back the story. And then it became so much more, providing the underlying theme that glued the story together. In this novel, love and growing go hand in hand. Marianne’s love for the garden is not just an obsession but a regeneration. Without it, she would not have the strength to fix her life, and or Justin’s. To him, the garden is the antithesis of his experience in the trenches, and in the juxtaposition is the nurture he needs to finally recover. The garden brings them together by chance but binds them together with love. The garden IS the story, and I love it just as much as Marianne and Justin love it. My greatest wish is that readers can love it too.
Back in the real world, I still have no desire to give up my time to gardening. It is just another chore that gets in the way of writing. I will be more interested when it comes to cooking up the fruit – I love making jams and desserts, and my gooseberry gin is just heavenly. Marianne may be the better gardener, but I am the better cook. And yet when I am out there, I put myself in her shoes, shrugging off nettle stings and thorn attacks, straining my back with fork and spade. She may only be a figment of my imagination, but it is good to feel connected to her in this way.