Sheila. My alternative mother figure and counsellor, there for me when I needed one most. A thoughtful, academic, independent thinker who taught me how to reason, and who’s valued second opinion was always available during the period when my family life was on shifting sands.
Sheila gifted me a Scots pine seedling from Sandling, her woodland garden in Surrey, when I was about nine. It grew so well it became my totem tree in our family garden in London. I had never thought of a totem tree until Sheila introduced the concept to me. But then again, it was Auntie that introduced me to garden ecology and how best to use plants and garden design to encourage birds, butterflies and pond life. Last time we met, I told her about my totem palm planted in my Brisbane garden, the latest continuation of our connection.
Sheila wanted her children and my sister and I to grow up to be the best version of ourselves possible. When I was accepted to study at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, she grinned from ear to ear. She loved my behind the scenes stories about Kew, and she was delighted when Kew awarded me a scholarship to undertake a botanical expedition to Western Australia. She understood and supported my desire to emigrate.
I always had to be ready for a good quizzing on visits. For over fifty years, gardening has been our strongest connection. We talk botany, the latest research, heritage fruit, garden design, the language of plants, and our shared love of nature and botanical art.
We all enjoyed thumbing through the latest catalogues. Like her parents, Sheila enjoyed plant hunting, finding the right variety of plant for the right purpose. Most of the gardening challenges I have been able to help Sheila with were not a consequence of a lack of understanding, she invariably knew what should be done to her sick peach tree, or how to protect favourite plants from hungry deer. My help came from confidence in the best method or technique, plus the occasional bit of heavy labour.
It’s hard to neatly sum up Sheila’s gardening method until I found this picture I took ten years ago in autumn. Auntie’s herbaceous border in her country garden, beautifully composed and thoughtfully planted to provide pollen and nectar, giving birds, butterflies and other insects nourishment just before the long period of winter dormancy. And within its carefully crafted drifts of colour, form and texture, was a flowering bindweed, a wildflower that can easily take over.
I cautioned Sheila about it. She knew the risk and knew it was there because not long before she had removed most of it by hand. But despite its potential for colonising a garden, bringing chaos to order, just a little bit was left and allowed to bloom. Auntie said there should always be the pulse of something wild in suburbia. And especially if it helps bumblebees.
I shall miss our gardening conversations.
RIP, Auntie Sheila.
1st July 2020
Messages from my Facebook post:
“A wonderful epitaph for your Aunt Shiela. What a marvellous tale of growth and heritage in your family and fertilising of knowledge through time. thanks so much. RIP Shiela”.
“My condolences to you and your family. Auntie Sheila sounds like she was a comfort and a real anchor for you and it sounds like she understood her importance in your life and the love you had for her. xoxo“
“Jerry, the world needs so many Auntie Sheilas and we are blessed that you connected with her in such a way. Everything she taught you, is teaching us, her plant whispering will live on thru you. Auntie Sheila will remain immortal. I am so sorry for your loss”.
“I wish everyone could have an Aunty Sheila ❤️”
“What an amazing person who nurtured her garden with love and knowledge. What an influence on you Jerry! ❤️❤️ RIP Sheila.💖”
“Sad for your loss, what a lovely tribute to a lovely lady”.
Mariann Lynette Clarke
“She must have been so proud of you… ❤”
“Your beautiful words spoke of a genuine bond and love filled with learning, laughter, humour and wit. Your aunt’s words “Auntie said there should always be the pulse of something wild in suburbia. And especially if it helps bumblebees.” are fabulous and encapsulate all the ideas and encouragement she gifted you Jerry. Please accept my deepest sympathy. 🌺🌸”
“What a wonderful human to have touched your life and supported you living your dreams. Thank you for sharing those fond memories. I’m sorry for your loss”.
“What a beautiful connection. She’s flowing through her flowers and trees, completely at One with Nature/ Heaven now 😇🥰”
“Thank you for sharing this photo Jerry and the story behind the photo”.
“Thank you for sharing your wonderful relationship with Auntie Sheila, I wish you peace and comfort in your own garden, surely a legacy to her profound influence on you”.
“Such a beautiful story. Aunty Sheila obviously had a wonderful influence on your life. My mum was Sheila also and we bonded together over many happy hours in the garden. Heartfelt condolences 💐💐”
“What a lovely story of a lady so important to your life. My condolences, Jerry”.
“Thats so beautiful and heartwarming. She will always be with you in spirit , in memory and of course in the garden. Your sadness will ease, but her memory will never fade. All the best, Jerry.💝💐🌺 ”
“A beautiful tribute, Jerry, to a special lady in your life. The Auntie Sheilas of this world have an impact which reaches beyond the nurturing of others, their gardens and the small things, her legacy lives on in you and the work you do. Sincere condolences ❤️”
“What a beautiful story about your Auntie Sheila, thank you for sharing, Jerry 💕💕
“Reading your beautiful story about your treasured loved one, I recalled and noticed so many of your special talents. Such a great writer, gardener, scientist, presenter, chef as well. No doubt, many other gifts your humble audience knows nothing of.
Your Auntie coaxing you to do your best had a profound effect. Her influence still radiates and now rewards your audience in many ways.
I would also like to thank her”.
“I would love to have visited your Aunties garden. I’m sorry for your loss. Sheila sounds like a very special lady 🦋”
“A beautiful story Jerry, like plants people eventually change and deteriorate, but memories live as long as you do”.
“Lovely story. I’ve also had people in my young life that still influence me today 60 years on”.
“Thank you for telling us about Sheila – what a great gardening role model! I love the story, especially the bindweed part”.
Debbie Colville Yauch
“So sorry for your loss ❤️”
“Sad for you, but what a wonderful Aunty and mentor ❤️”
“How lucky to have people like your Aunt who are passionate about nature and their gardens…thank you for sharing and safe travels for Sheila 😢💚 xx”
“Imagine If every child (and adult) had an Aunty Sheila experience, what a legacy ✅”
“What a beautiful story Jerry, I’m sure you’ll miss her terribly”.
“Sorry for your loss. What a wonderful lady and relationship you write about. Someone who will live on in your gardening”.
“Beautiful story Darl, I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, her legacy is in you for ever🙏🏻”
“A beautiful piece that speaks to my heart. Best wishes to you”
“Beautiful, wouldn’t it be lovely if we all had an Aunt Sheila”
“Thank you for sharing Auntie Sheila’s lovely blend of gardening know-how and her just allowing nature do her thing. She was a treasure.”
“Beautiful tribute Jerry to your Auntie Sheila. Many home gardeners are now receiving the benefits of your serious in-depth knowledge you have gained over the decades,, which Sheila helped to encourage passion into your young mind. I am fortunate to have my mum sharing her passion these days encouraging a number of my siblings into gardening. Some people look to gardening as a release from busy working lives, or large families on the constant run. There is so much peace to be found in our gardens. May Sheila also Rest In Peace”
“Beautiful tribute Jerry, always so sad to lose our elders, I hope your garden brings you peace”
“My sincerest condolences, Jerry, for the loss of Aunty Sheila. Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories of her. Take care”.
“So sorry for your loss. She would have been very proud of you.”
“Lovely story about your Auntie Sheila…we miss our oldies”.
“Beautiful writing Jerry, thank you. Long live Totem trees”.
“It’s so good to have these wonderful memories, which really do help to dilute the pain of loss 🌹”
“What a wonderful lady, we all need an Aunty Sheila in our lives. Sorry for your loss”.
“How wonderful. My dear mama was Sheila”
“What a beautiful tribute, Jerry”.
“R.I.P. Aunty Sheila. What a lovely character”.
“What a very special person Sheila was and what a lovely bond you had with her”.
“Jerry…I am so sorry for your loss! Weren’t you fortunate to have this wonderful Lady in your life…Aunty Sheila will stay with you always. Sincere condolences… 😢😢💜💜💜💜💜”
“What wonderful memories of your Auntie Sheila. She will always live in your heart. 💛”
“Lovely article and glorious final picture with the appletree and foxgloves!! ❣❣”
“Wow, what a special relationship. ❤️”
“You’re always interesting, Jerry – thanks for sharing those lovely memories”
“A very special mentor whose influence we all benefit from. 💞“
“Sorry for your loss, you will see her visit in your garden journeys and remember what she taught you”.
“Grand genes. Sorry for your loss. What a brilliant woman. Love the wild bit”.
“Our deepest sympathy for your loss but what an inspiring concept to have a family totem plant, for me it is bottle trees & I have left a path of them behind throughout life but never really thought about it. I love this concept and what memories for those we leave behind”.
“What a wonderful tribute to a special lady.”
“What a wonderful connection, so sad for everyone but what a legacy. I’m sure she will always be with you in spirit and in heart and thoughts”.
“A beautiful story of a beautiful soul 🌸”
“God bless a special special woman 💖”
“Wonderful u could share.”
Elizabeth N Rhys Thomas
“Sending love and hugs. How lucky to have such a person in your life.🌻🌻🌻”
“God bless always, Jerry. So sad for your loss”.
“Condolences to you Jerry. Weren’t you so fortunate to have met this wonderful lady. She changed your life. May she RIP.”
“Lovely. Grandma was like that”.
Pietro Jo Di
“Lovely memories, wonderful legacy”.
Alison Ray Woo
“Some people plant things, others plant things and sow the seeds of wonder in young people so they grow into being gardeners. I hope your memories of Auntie Sheila bring much comfort to you, Jerry. A remarkable woman. May she rest in peace”.
“Your Auntie Sheila must have been an amazing person! How lucky you were to have her in your life. I love her gardens, especially the windflowers. Bless her, and you too Jerry.
“My condolences to you Jeremy on the loss of your beloved aunt. I had an Auntie Sheila equivalent who was my gardening inspiration and on lots of other fronts too. Her name was Nancy Clift from Mildura, Victoria. She past away recently and will be missed by many people, especially her fellow gardeners”.
“What a great aunt to have, Auntie Sheila would have been a big influence in your life. 💕”
“We are one with our gardens and every plant to me represents life . Sorry to see this post and hope you are well . Enjoy your garden for her and plant a special plant for her”.
“Thank you for sharing such an intimate and deeply felt family history story-what a fine influence your Aunty was 🌸”
“Sad for your loss, but glad she was part of your life!”
“Sheila would be very happy and proud to read this xx”
5 Comments Add yours
What great memories, Jerry. Sheila sounds like a wonderful and encouraging influence in your life. What a treasure. So sad for your loss. Her memory will whisper to you through the leaves. xx
Thank you Jerry, for sharing this story
So sorry for your loss
Dear Jerry, It is a lovely story about your Aunt Sheila. How lucky to have had such a wonderful person in your life. Thanks for sharing your story. Love, Patty
Oh Jerry. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss 😭 Sheila sounds like a treasure of a human being and she’ll definitely live on ❤️