The Italian Garden with Apricot trees growing on the walls really did exist...as did baby Diane and about thirty other small children.
It was a Children's Home run by Birmingham City Council back in the days before Social Workers...they were known as Child Care Officers then and were not to be messed with.
Mother decided as I was stupid that 'looking after children' would be an ideal career choice...I was desperate to go to Art College and had a place there but what Mother said went...as it were. So she duly arranged for me to go and work with children.
Field House had once been a private home where no money had been spared on the gardens...the house itself was quite plain and had been altered so much to accommodate thirty little people and various staff, that it no longer bore any resemblance to the family home it had once been.
We...the Nursery Nurses...lived in the attics...the Cook and the lady who did the mending and other odd-bods lived in what had once been the stable block.
The children...aged from newborn to seven, were all races, colours and creeds...they were divided up into 'family' groups of five children and two girls to look after them. The babies lived in the Nursery, with French windows opening onto the Italian garden.
It was a lovely place...homely and caring with never so much as a hint of unkindness from anyone.
But I'd meant to tell you of those glorious gardens...the rose garden, completely enclosed by high old brick walls, crumbling here and there from age and the weather...with a little rusty gate and winding cobbled paths...old Galicia roses hung their heads and shed dark crimson petals...palest pink ramblers twined around their supporting pillars...their sweet musky perfume beloved of bees in the daytime and white furry moths at night...no one had weeded the paths or pruned the roses for many years. There were still stone seats though...hidden away in secret places where you could spend some time off whiling away a sunlit afternoon.
The fruit garden was equally neglected...also enclosed by high brick walls, it was a suntrap to ripen raspberries growing haywire everywhere...and elusive strawberries, undaunted by lack of care, simply grew bigger and sweeter...blackcurrant bushes and dessert gooseberries, with fruit begging to be picked. There were quince and medlars on the walls and a veritable forest of tiny alpine strawberries under ones feet...
It was the so named secret garden which we used to gravitate to when we had an hour or so off...so awfully over-grown and swamped with something and everything it was a magical place...there were stone fountains smothered in lichens and mosses...statues in alcoves around the surrounding wall...a carpet of bluebells in the spring and heavily perfumed self-seeded wallflowers...dark purple lilacs and bush after bush of the buddleia...the butterfly bush...covered in a swarm of gorgeous peacock butterflies.
But my absolute favourite would still be the Italian garden with the formal pond right in the centre covered over with layers of wire netting for safety...big orange goldfish would come to the surface...mouths agape waiting to be fed with special fishy pellets...there were old wooden seats and bird nesting boxes nestled in the ivy...on the walls grew vast amounts of jasmine and honeysuckle...leave the French doors in the babies room open and you could smell the perfume all over the house...drifting up the attic stairs and down into the bathrooms...
And the apricots...so ripe and sweet... the juice would run down my chin when I picked them in the night hours while lulling a fretful baby to sleep...there were white peaches and figs and the tangled borders beneath the fruit were crowded with self-seeded night scented stock...
There was a gardener...but he was an elderly man who also acted as odd-job man and he took the school age children to and from school...picked us up from the 'bus stop and mowed the lawns...little time left for weeding cobblestone paths or pruning rampant roses.
The house has gone now...and so have the roses and the fish and the big tortoise we found one day munching on strawberries...the apricots are no more and the secret garden is just a memory...the children have grown and the staff moved on...
It was all destroyed years ago to build a new housing estate.