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She… my garden queen

“She” is a nineteenth-century novel by H. Rider Haggard, later made into a movie, starring Ursula Andress in the title role.


Steve Latham


It is the story of a group of European explorers, who discover a lost African tribe, ruled over by a white queen.

It is, of course, a completely racist and imperialist confection, of Victorian social Darwinism, with “She” reigning over a remnant of the Roman Empire in Africa.

I, however, have my own version of She, in my little corner of London. She, in this case, is sovereign over a small patch of land in Islington. An urban garden, carefully and lovingly developed in the last few years, within the walls of a small, cramped space allotted to a former council house, now occupied by ourselves.

She has planted and propagated a variety of plants and flowers, beautifying this patch of land, and providing food for the soul in this inner city neighbourhood.

Always on the lookout, whenever we visit garden centres, for new species, and not above taking (she is adamant that it is not stealing) samples from parks, and common land we pass through.

She is intent on building an oasis, of spreading shrubs to provide ground cover, flowering bulbs for colour, and climbing plants to grow over the brick walls. These are interspersed with small trees, to provide shade from the sun and also height, to shield us from the gaze of neighbours.

You may gather, from my descriptions, that I do not share her enthusiasm. I do love the resultant glorious profusion of bursting colour. It is a delight.

But I have not learned the details. For example, I continually fail to learn the names of these plantings.

Despite being told, repeatedly, what they are called, I always forget. When we are out, and she tests my memory, it yields only a blankness.

When she quizzes me about what the blue flower against the wall is called, I am confused, because I see two different blue flowers.

I do not possess the zeal for growing things. For me life is in books. For her, reading books combines with sitting at her window, looking out in delight at what She has grown.

But what I love, is seeing her walking in that garden; when we return from a trip, and She races to the flowerbeds, to discover how they are faring.

Or, when She gets up in the morning, and goes out to investigate the overnight changes. Of course, what I love is She, herself.

Naturally, there is also a shadow-side. She wages continuous war against the sparrows eating the buds on her apple tree, and the snails eating her flowers.

But what She excels in, is rescuing dying stragglers, re-potting them, covering their roots with compost, and tenderly positioning them amidst their compatriots in the soil.

As in Richard Hawley’s magnificent song, “She brings the sunlight”, listen to it. She loves to bring dying things back to life, like she did with me.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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