Dad was the gardener in our household. He grew enough vegetables to keep us going, and the garden was always a riot of flowers. When I couldn’t sleep he’d sit by my bed and talk to me about the flowers in the garden. But when Dad had a stroke and went into a care home, Mum discovered she loved gardening too.Well ‘gardening’ might be stretching it. She didn’t really do weeding except in the lawn, and she’d hoik up the visible parts, leaving the roots to strengthen in the soil. She certainly didn’t do vegetables. But she did like flowers. I was once delighted to get an envelope in which she’d pressed some flowers between blotting paper because she wanted to share them with me. I loved to hear her exclaiming about the little apple tree looking ‘like a bridesmaid’, or about the hellebore’s magnificent deep purple flowers.
But when Mum came to live with me, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, we hit a problem. I am my father’s daughter. My garden is my pride and joy. Suddenly all my gardening had to be done with Mum in tow.
It drove me crazy. I didn’t mind Mum leaving the roots of weeds in her lawn, but I couldn’t bear it when she did it in mine. I didn’t object when she pulled up all the ‘deaderies’ in her flowerbeds. It drove me mad when she uprooted the dormant clematis in mine. Once when she yanked out all the sweet peas I had just planted it was all I could do not to cry.
I hadn’t realised how much I used the garden as a place to reflect, to muse on life, and just to be alone. With Mum there, being solitary wasn’t an option. If I wasn’t having to stop her doing something, I was having to think of something for her to do, supervising whatever I had asked her to do, or responding to her ‘conversation’.
But when I was able to control my desire for solitude, we gardened companionably. Together we dug out new flowerbeds, and planted hundreds of daffodils. Every spring Mum was with me the daffodils would come up, and I would tell Mum she had helped me plant them. She marvelled at this, and looked delighted to have contributed to something so lovely. Every morning, seeing them anew, she would – word-perfectly – quote Wordsworth.
“I wander’d lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils.”
Every year when the daffodils come up I feel her with me, and hear her voice saying those words. It brings a tear to my eye, and a smile to my lips.
In memory of Mum I am giving 5% of my royalties from my book, Keeping Mum: Caring for Someone with Dementia, to Alzheimer’s Research UK. I am delighted to be a Champion of the charity and to speak on their behalf whenever and wherever they ask me. The cost of dementia care is £24 billion a year in the UK and rising. Do join me and give whatever you can to help beat this condition.
About the author
Oxford philosopher and writer Marianne Talbot lost both her parents to dementia. After her father died with vascular dementia, her mum, Lesley, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Marianne brought Lesley to live with her and looked after her for five years before making the hard decision to put her into care. She published a book entitled Keeping Mum: Caring for Someone with Dementia, which chronicles their experience together, and a percentage of the proceeds are donated to Alzheimer’s Research UK. An accomplished public speaker, Marianne has spoken on many occasions at events and through the media to raise awareness of the need for more funding for research.