The experience of drinking tea is as important as the leaves themselves, perhaps moreso. Those of us who dabble in writing about tea do so from a rather impersonal perspective - the writing is more about the tea than it is about us. However, every now and again, it's nice to find out a little bit more - this article is in response to the surprising amount of correspondence that has landed in my "inbox" over the week-end concerning the last article, "Wulong and the Willow".
Do please rejoin us on a later day if you'd like to read about more about tea.
The houses (and therefore the gardens) of the English are, according to the Economist, "famous for being small and expensive". Our hourse definitely fits the bill, but we have put a great deal of love into it, and have made it into a rather good home, we like to think.
Yesterday, I took the opportunity of an afternoon at home in the sunshine to knock up a watercolour plan of our garden, in response to those of you, dear Readers, who asked for a little more data.
It is a long, thin garden, because the houses here are arranged so that their gardens are parallel. They date back to the mid 1930s, where they were originally intended as being accommodation for workers at the newly-built Morris car factory in Oxford, the heart of the English motorcar business. For better or worse, Morris and his cars transformed the face of the city. Betjeman writes about this exact topic in a famous poem.
The houses have been variously upgraded in the eighty years since then, and we have done a lot since buying the place in 2008: we have stripped the property back to the bare bricks and replaced everything. Floors, wiring, windows - the lot.
The garden has needed an equal amount of work. The property was owned by an old lady, who bought it in the 1980s for less than 10% of the price for which we bought it (!). The garden was neglected, filled with concrete, steel, and decaying buildings, and this year marks the first at which we can really say "the garden is sorted out". It needs time to grow, but the design is there - thanks mainly due to Lei and her mother, while my contribution was the heavy lifting.
Above, the house garden - that portion nearest the house, past the patio (shown in the previous article). It ends in a patch of fruit trees that we planted in 2010, along with the arrival of our son, Xiaohu. It is filled with flowers and the scent of honeysuckle, and is that section of the garden designed to be enjoyed every day.
The centre-garden was the focus of the last article, being dominated by a very old willow, who provides cover, company, and also sucks up huge amounts of water that would otherwise turn our land into the marsh after which the area was once named (heh).
This place is less heavily used than the house-garden, and so is a little less floral, and more planted with larger trees that will ultimately be visible from the house. Under the willow, one feels "hidden away", in a quiet world. It is a very good spot for tea.
The vegetable garden
Finally, following the path, a screen of fruit trees hides the vegetable garden, which is entered by walking under a pair of red-apple trees. Here there is a small lawn, perhaps for playing croquet with Xiaohu when he grows up, as I once played at home with my family, bordered by more fruit trees (apples, pears, and walnuts), and a long vegetable patch. It is here that Lei and her mother grow our jiucai - a "garlic grass" type of vegetable which, I am reliably informed, is "healthy for men". This last is usually accompanied by a waggling of eyebrows.
The building at the end is a large contruction put together by some local carpenters, who did a very good job. A photograph will testify to their handiwork later...
Pictured below, the overall plan, with all three sections of the gardens shown in series.
Pushing through the fruit trees, the vegetable garden gets a lot of sun, as pictured below.
The building at the back is a fun place to hide out, and has a cosy porch that offers shelter from the frequent rains...
Xiaohu is very pleased with himself, as he can (just about) get up onto the chairs himself now.
Sitting on the porch, the willow tree can be seen from the far side, along with a part of the rear lawn. The vegetable patch is just out of shot, to the right. Somehow, Lei has managed to train fragrant honeysuckle to climb all over the porch...
Of course, one of the pleasures of a garden is watching it grow. The fruit trees are at most two years old, but generate fruit in large amounts, as if they were making up for lost time.
Perhaps the garden wishes only to show its appreciation for being appreciated, after all this time.