My father loved words and had a rich and extensive vocabulary. He was the son of a milkman, born at the beginning of the twentieth century into a family that believed profoundly in education as a means to improvement.
He excelled at school, not just academically but also in sports and, had he been born in another era, he would certainly have gone to university. But, at an impressionable age and from a poor family, he had seen the hunger marches in the early twenties and knew what poverty was, so believed he needed to get a job as soon as he left school. But that did not stop him continuing to learn. Books were his route to knowledge.
And that love of language continued right into his final months, even when of frail health and uncertain mental capacity. We shared those final months when he and my mother came to live with us.
The "back garden" in our shared house was no more than a couple of stepped terraces, but at some point it must have been planted by a skilled gardener - each bush and tree chosen as the best of its kind. And there, in the middle of a small border was a plant we had not met before - a purple smoke bush. Or, to give it its proper name - cotinus coggygria atropurpurea. My father delighted in remembering and rolling those Latin words round his tongue!
There has been a smoke bush in every garden we've had since.
I tried to plant one down at the cottage, in the border that you first see as you come down the drive. I knew that, once large, its beautiful ruby purple leaves would catch the morning sunlight. But the ground there is unforgiving - sandy and, even when dug over, full of builder's rubble - and I lost my first attempt.
I decided to try again, and nursed the new, small plant through last year and this wet winter. Imagine my delight as I saw new buds forming in these last few weeks. Imagine my distress when two days ago I found two-thirds of the plant broken down! Wretched deer!!! They are lovely in the fields, less welcome in the garden.
The now much reduced smoke bush has a large fence of heavy-duty green plastic mesh encircling it. Not very beautiful, but very necessary, I suspect for a year or two. And the broken off piece? Small stubby twiglets dipped in cinnamon powder (apparently useful as a rooting compound) are now on the terrace in a pot - maybe (fingers crossed) one or two may take.
Dad, I need your help please, from up there in your scholarly paradise, in looking after the twiglets and the small bush. In a few years' time, when our guests ask me "what is that lovely purple bush with its delicate smoke-like flowers?" I want to be able to say, casually, "oh, that's our cotinus coggygria atropurpurea." And I will think of you.