Mary Jones' first tenative attempts at gardening
Mary Jones' first tentative attempts at gardening

Mary Jones is a single Mum. Well that’s how everyone sees her apart from Mary Jones.  To her she may be a Mum but she is also someone who dreams of another life, who longs to be free from the worry of not having any money, who wishes that she had had the courage to follow her dreams to go to horticultural college.  But what is the point of regrets they serve no purpose in life except to make you more dis-satisfied than you already are.  So Mary Jones paints a smile on her face and does the best she can.

Life isn’t that bad when you put it into perspective.  Especially if you take the view of Mary’s on off boyfriend who points out to her how much better her life is than if she was starving in Africa!  Her two young sons are healthy and seem happy, they have a roof over their heads and live in a relatively nice neighbourhood.  There is just enough money each week to feed them although Mary has to be quite clever with the shopping and unlike their friends the boys never have crisps and sweets or even chocolate biscuits.  These only appear when Grandma brings a food parcel.

At least Mary doesn’t have to worry anymore about what mood her husband, now her ex, will be in when he comes home from work or whether he will disappear straight after the boys have gone to bed to ostensibly go back to the office which Mary now knew was a lie.  It had taken a couple of years after the divorce before Mary had realised the level of mental cruelty she had experienced, as well as physical abuse, from her ex.  No!  All that was in the past and they had heard nothing from him since well before the divorce went through.  Now it was time for Mary Jones and her boys to build a new life, to move forward and leave the old and unhappy life behind them.

Mary Jones had been planning and working hard.  She had enrolled on an accountancy course so that when both the boys were at full time school she had a better chance of getting a well paid job.  Not that Mary didn’t already have skills up her sleeve.  She was a trained secretary and had spent a number of years before having the boys working in property management but she had to do something with the long lonely evenings so why not get some more skills.  Of course, if Mary had been able to she would have gone and got a job right away as she wasn’t a lazy person but she was stuck in a benefit trap.  While she was on benefits the government paid her mortgage interest as well as providing funds for her and the boys to live off.  However, if she was to go to work before both the boys were in state education she wouldn’t be able to afford to pay the mortgage and her youngest’s child care so she had to wait – Mary would become very good at waiting.

The one saving grace to Mary Jones’ life was her garden.  It was only tiny, little more than a handkerchief, but it was hers and no one could tell her what she could or couldn’t do.  There was a tiny square of lawn, surrounded with borders.  The back boundary was the side of a neighbour’s garage – the wall was very high as it was one of those garages with a pointy roof.  The left hand boundary was the side of Mary’s garage and the right hand boundary was a fence.  There was also a small patio and two steps leading up to the lawn.  But the best feature of Mary’s garden, the feature that visitors and neighbours commented on were her hanging baskets.

Mary would save her pennies for weeks, if not months, at the start of the year.  50p here, £1 there until she had enough money for that special trip to the garden centre.  As this was in the mid 1990s subtly wasn’t really the thing and brash reds, blues and oranges were the look, none of the coordinated selections we have now.  Mary had a formula which always worked.  A large geranium, or pelargonium as we call them now, in the middle, some petunias or busy lizzies around them and trailing lobelia to finish off.

Mary would line her baskets with moss, with no concerns about the environmental issues we now consider, followed by a circle cut from an old compost bag and then plant up two baskets to go either side of the front door.  There was also a sort of window box and a number of pots which went by the front door with only a few on the patio.  They looked wonderful and Mary was very proud of them.  Here was one thing she was successful at, one thing that was all her own work and maybe just maybe a sign that her teenage dreams of working in horticulture weren’t so foolish.