Great-grandma had come from Switzerland to Romania in 1927 as a trained nanny for children with disabilities. Among the things which she attempted to reconstruct in her new country that’d remind her of home was a typically Swiss garden: with flowerbeds and gravel roads, bergenia, violets, tulips, periwinkle, hydrangea, forsythia, rose-beds and an ivy-covered fence.
As people from the North need a constant reminder of their longing for the South, a Mediterranean twist was added: 4 oleanders in wooden crates shed our garden table from our neighbours’ prying eyes, 2 white and 2 pink ones.
She’d tend to the garden almost every day, so I grew up learning plants by their German or botanical name more than by their Romanian ones. The oleanders grew heavier each year and they needed to be carried down the spiral staircase to the basement every winter. Sometimes they got lice and had to be treated. Sometimes dad didn’t look sad at all when they had to be pruned dramatically, as that would decrease their size and weight proportionately.
They survived everything – except the collapse of the communist party. When, after years of applying for permits in vain, upon the fall of the regime in 1989, we where finally authorised to switch from heating with wood stoves to central heating, the oleanders snuffed it.