Expat adventures

Thu, 11. Jul. 2019
Mind Mum's Rhubarb! (Anna Charles)

It’s fair to say I don’t have green fingers. This aversion to gardening began at an early age with the dreaded Sunday visits to the family allotment.

My parents encouraged me to join in, but despite turning out a crop of lavender-blue cornflowers and rows of crunchy radishes, I found the whole experience dreary in the extreme.

The Swiss look
It therefore came as a surprise to my husband and children when, after moving to Switzerland, I developed a burning desire to festoon our chalet with scarlet geraniums.

I bought a load of flowers from one of the mega shops around Montreux and joyfully set about planting them in our window boxes. But it didn’t take long for my geranium adventure to turn into a disaster. Within two weeks the flowers basically fell apart.

Undeterred (it was still earlysummer), I decided to give it another go. I had no time to drive far, so did what I should have done in the first place: popped up the road to the nursery set in the hills behind Rougemont.

Whether it was down to thequality of the plants (my second batch did seem sturdier), or my determination to keep them alive (dedicating many hours to watering and deadheading), I achieved my goal. The geraniums prospered and the front of our chalet was a riot of colour.

There was an unexpected side benefit, too: I discovered my eldest son’s secret cache of contraband Coca-Cola bottles. They were neatly lined up on a narrow ledge between the flower box at his window and the outer chalet wall. If he’d only volunteered to help water the plants, I would have been none the wiser.

But perhaps the previous year had scarred him from getting involved. It concerned an incident we now refer to as Mum’s Rhubarb.

Mum’s Rhubarb
It all started harmlessly enough. Our garden was getting out of control and we decreed the whole family would spend Saturday afternoons tidying it up. I had suffered my parents’ allotment, after all…

Three weeks in, my two older sons lobbied for a job change. They were sensible enough, they claimed, to mow the grass and promised to be careful. We agreed, leaving their younger brother to fill the newly vacant position of ‘picking up leaves’, and gave the boys a safety briefing. They also received strict instructions to not damage the rhubarb plant which grew in the north corner of the lawn. It was a bit puny, but I adore rhubarb and harboured a lingering hope the plant might snap back into life.

All summer long the boys did a tremendous job. They worked as a team, listened to instructions and studiously avoided the rhubarb plant. They even stopped resenting our Saturday gardening sessions – until the day we hired a man to help out.

Autumn was approaching and we needed one last push to get ready for winter. That afternoon our boys took their customary break on the little terrace outside the kitchen. They supped their drinks and kicked back, happy to watch the gardener share the burden. Right up to the point when he ran the mower straight across the sacred rhubarb plant. Their whole summer’s worth of care and attention was obliterated in 30 seconds flat.

It was my fault, of course. The plant still looked limp and I had failed to explain its significance to the unfortunate gardener. But our boys were apoplectic and resigned from gardening forthwith.

Been there, done that
We moved to an apartment sans garden in Gstaad a few years later. While I still love rhubarb and know our terrace would look wonderful adorned with geraniums, I’m happy to have ‘been there, done that’ and marvel at our neighbours’ efforts instead.

Anna Charles



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