Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fertilizer Friday -- An English Lady's English Garden

In 2006 my English mother-in-law (MIL) invited me to visit her, alone (without my husband, her son, whom she doted on). The invitation was an unprecedented surprise! Since there is very little flowering in my garden right now, I thought for Fertilizer Friday I would share some photos that I took on my trip, mostly of her garden.

 Birdhouse in MIL's Garden

I stayed with her for a week, at her house in the town of Kirby Muxloe (a suburb of Leicester), visited the local castle, toured the University of Leicester Royal Horticultural Society garden (subject of a future post), and went for a very posh lunch at a beautiful estate called Kilworth House.

Kirby Muxloe Castle

MIL's Garden

The front was always very regimented, with bedding annuals in serried rows, planted out with ruler in hand to make sure the spacing was absolutely accurate, and color coordinated.

But the beds in the back were a different story, where plants were allowed to run amuck more freely. And the plants used were all common cottage garden style plants that I love too -- violas, hellebores, lungwort, aubretia, rose campion, primroses, daffodils, muscari, forget-me-nots.

 The shrubs and trees, which provided the backbone of the garden, were still very structured.

She included several concrete statues that I loved, but standing on their own, not integrated into the garden.

Included in her garden was a small rockery.

Finally, in the interests of honesty, I have to admit, I didn't have the kind of friendly relationship with MIL that I wanted. She was prickly, opinionated, somewhat bigoted (a bias that covered anyone who wasn't English, including the Scottish and the Irish, and unfortunately, the Americans), and looked at me with a critical eye, so that I often had the feeling I didn't measure up to her standards. I was overweight (still am, I like sweets!), and she was 4'11" and weighed little more than 100 lbs her entire life. I was an ugly, uncultured American, and she was a very proper English lady.

But....and this is a big but....she is the reason I am a gardener.

Many years ago, when our son was 6 or 7, MIL visited our house in Massachusetts, and toured our yard (we couldn't call it a garden), and then came inside with some very harsh criticism. She thought there was so much more we could do with our yard, and encouraged me to start gardening.

So I did.

I threw myself into gardening with great enthusiasm, because if I was going to be a gardener, I was going to be an excellent gardener. Just so I could show her what I could do, how much I could learn. My garden never impressed her, but that's OK. Because I realized I loved doing it. For me.

At Christmastime in 2006, MIL suffered a stroke that left her physically debilitated, but mentally sharp, and still capable of communication. In Spring, 2007, we had to return to Kirby Muxloe, to empty her house and get it ready for sale. She spent her last few years in a nursing home, greatly frustrated by her inability to care for herself, and be independent.

She passed away last Fall.

Please head over to Tootsie Time to see all the other posts by gardeners who have flowers to flaunt.


  1. Well, now I know why you're such a knowledgable gardener, Alison! Whenever anyone queries a plant, you are truly the first person I think of!

    Who said you were an 'ugly, uncultured' American? Your MIL? Apart from not being true in any way, if that was her opinion, shame on her! A 'lady' would not pass judgement or be critical or bigotted. How sad that she did not try to cultivate a loving and mutually rewarding relationship with you. It must have been very unpleasant having her visit your home only to be subjected to unkind comments.

    I love the pictures you have shared of Kirby Muxloe Castle! What a magical setting. Oh, I could have spent a good few hours wandering about, taking it all in and imbibing a sense of what the castle was like in its heyday. I'm a sucker for ruins!

  2. I send you a warm hug. You can not please everyone and I know that becasuse there are people in my life too that see the cup half empty. Your garden in your own creation and if it makes you happy then it is a winner. Be proud of your accomplishments and let the sour pusses out there be darned.

  3. Oh my that is both a happy and sad story. You found a wonderful hobby thru your MIL, send a grateful prayer and say thank you. There is nothing better then being out in the garden, playing in the dirt and talking to the plants.

  4. This was quite a story. I'm sorry for the harsh words spoken by your mil. How is it that sometimes the biggest thorns in our sides inspire us to try new things and better ourselves and our lives?
    Best to you in your new garden adventures!
    Dandelion Wishes,
    From Massachusetts!
    Deborah Jean

  5. Well, isn't that the truth about gardeners from Britain? A fellow here owns a small family gardening centre and his training will always be better than anyone else because he did his apprenticeship at Kew Gardens. When I became a Master Gardener, he told he had no use for the organization and we had our nerve calling ourselves Master Gardeners.
    But, like your MIL, I still like the old guy and he does have a wealth of knowledge. We've even traded plants.
    Thank you for sharing your family story.

  6. Beautiful pictures and what a story! I love the part where you say that even though your garden never impressed your mil, you did it for yourself.
    I'm a beginning gardener and know very little so far, but I really like experimenting in my little backyard and learn about new plants and flowers. I'm looking forward to your future gardening posts.

  7. Wow her front garden was very precise, the edge on the lawn is amazing. Luckily it sounds like she raised a good son. I get along well most of the time with my MIL, but there are times I get very frustrated with how she is. I guess living two states away helps though :)
    Glad she inspired the gardener in you, you are definitely very knowledgeable and talented!

  8. Your MIL had a very beautiful garden. I also don't get along well with my MIL although she does not criticize me in front.But she does complain to my husband. It is wonderful and remarkable journey on how you became a master gardener.

  9. Hi Allison,
    You were brave to go visit your MIL by yourself. She did have an impressive place, but it's too bad she didn't have more kindness in her heart toward others. My father-in-law's mother died when he was a few months old. An aunt and uncle took him in, and wanted to raise him, but his dad married, and they took him back. The step mother was from England, and was never very nice to him. I ended up on her bad side, because I was already irritated by something mean she said about FIL, then, when my son, who didn't know her well, because they lived in a different city, was shy to hug her, she hugged a different grandson, and said he'd hug her. I had had it, and said, "You just don't have very much nice to say, do you?" I was a new Christian, and apologized right away, and did again in a letter or two, but she never responded to me. She did give me a little smile at a birthday party we went to for her, but we never talked after that. She was quite the gardener, too.

    I better quit before this turns into a whole post! I enjoyed your photos and story about your MIL and you and your gardening for yourself.

    Thanks for your comment about the mice situation on my Critters post.

  10. I haven't had the best relationship with my own MIL either for the past 30+ years, but something my husband (her son) said that rings true: "It's more about her than it is you," and he was right. More often than not, her attitude toward me was not the result of something I had done or failed to do, it was a direct reflection of how she was feeling about herself. She was never happy about our gardens, since we 'didn't plant anything we could eat' so what was the point of it? Though she does seem to like them now. A little. We get along better nowadays, but I wish it could have been different. We are not close, but remain cordial. Sort of an arm's length type of relationship. I am now poised to become a MIL myself, since we have two sons (whom or is it who? I dote on!) and no daughters, so I will have to see how I do in the role.

    I am so happy you took up the challenge and made a fantastic garden all your own, Alison! It's so easy to lose heart when people are judgmental, and especially since your English MIL saw herself as a garden authority. Everyone's garden is a reflection of what they love, and that's the way it should be. Our hearts have to be in it, and your heart is certainly in yours!

  11. So many of us seem to have been blessed with unkind MILs. I know for me, mine was like your and I've always said the experience has served to make me be conscious always of how I will be as a MIL. No matter how confident a new bride is in her marriage, support from her MIL can only help. If she's not confident, support can transform her to a confident woman for my son. As Desiree pointed out, a true lady wants people in her life to feel at ease and welcomed and that is my goal.

    As for your MIL's garden, all I could think about was how much weeding would be required to keep such a regimented garden in line. Not sure I have it in me! It is lovely, though, and I'm glad you got to explore your husband's roots on your own terms.

  12. Alison, I admire your candid description of your relationship with your MIL. I love the determination with which you threw yourself into gardening - amd with such rewarding results. I was lucky with my dear MIL: she had three sons and regarded all her DILs as daughters - in the best way! She was one of my best gardening friends over the years I was privileged to know her, even though we are in Portland, and she lived in Southern California. She also passed away last fall, and I miss her greatly.

    The wonderful gift your MIL gave you is something that trancends her life or your relationship with her. It makes me happy every time I hear that someone loves to garden!

  13. what a fabulous honest and the lovely you described the back and front were exactly what was coming across in the photos...thx for sharing this lovely story

  14. What a wonderful post and tribute to someone who was so influential in your becoming a gardener!

  15. Excellent post. I have been blessed with two pretty decent mother in laws although the first could be a bit overbearing. I think though, whether we have good or bad relationships with our mother in laws we almost always learn good things from them about how to make a happier home, whether it be following by example or learning from their mistakes. You seemed to have taken something good from your mother in law in spite of her bad behavior to you.

  16. Thank you for your visit - it gave me a chance to discover your blog. A prickly relationship with a MIL is a difficult thing, especially when one is prepared for the relationship to be good. At least your MIL left a legacy of love for gardening.
    Now I'm off to read some more of your posts........


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