Janet Foster owed a debt of gratitude to Oxford Botanic Garden, and Oxford in general.
It was here that her life changed for the better.
Before she studied Criminology and Criminal Justice at New College, her life had not been very good.
She grew up on a farm in Yorkshire, with her mother and father. Her father treated her badly following her mother’s death when she was very young. It all came to a head when Janet tried to escape with the new born Piglets after seeing some of them be slaughtered when she was five. After that, her father disowned her and made her live with a Priest in Whitby, where she lived until she got into Oxford.
Oxford was the one place where she felt welcome and fitted in (well, apart from Lower Strangling of course).
Every day she used to wonder through the peaceful gardens, and it was here that she met Jo, who was a botanical horticulturist at the time.
They used to talk to each other and became firm friends, before realising that they were in love with each other and became an item, something the Priest in Whitby would disapprove of as well as every other aspect of her personality.
Janet and Jo lived in Oxford a few years after Janet graduated before Jo got a job as head gardener at Lower Strangling’s botanic garden, and the rest was history.
And now, here they were again, in Oxford Botanic Garden for the 400th anniversary celebrations.
“I suppose it’s odd, being back here?” Janet asked Jo as they walked round the gardens.
“In a sense, yes. But it’s also nice.” Jo said.
“It’s nice for me as well,” Janet said.
“Hmm,” Jo replied.
The two women came across a densely planted border in front of an bright orange wall.
“This is where we met.” Janet said to Jo as they looked at the borders.
“Oh yeah.” Jo said. “I was here weeding whilst you walked past.”
“And now look at us,” Janet said before kissing her girlfriend.
“The border is in as good a condition as it was when I worked here.” Jo said.
“You would hope so,” Janet replied. “But the real question is, how does it compare to the borders in Lower Strangling botanic garden?”
“They’re just as good, I reckon.” Jo said, before walking down the path to the rest of the garden.
“Jo! Hi!” A voice cried behind them.
Jo and Janet turned round, it was Alan Brown, Jo’s old colleague who still worked at the garden.
“Alan, hi! How are you?” Jo asked.
“Oh, you know. Same old stuff. Weeding, planting, that kind of thing.” Alan said. “How are things in Lower Strangling?”
“Never better,” Jo said, “of course COVID was a nuisance but apart from that it’s been good.”
“Good to hear,” Alan said, “and also good to see you two still together.”
“We wouldn’t have it any other way.” Janet said, linking arms with Jo.
“So, are you married now or….?” Alan asked.
“We’re not, no.” Janet said. “We’d like to get married in St Gerald the Damned, but the Church of England doesn’t allow gay marriage currently and we don’t want Simon to get defrocked for our sake.”
“Right, ok.” Alan said. “Well, I better get going, things to do.”
“Sure. It’s time for lunch anyway,” Jo said.
Jo and Janet bade goodbye to Alan and they went their separate ways.
Janet and Jo then sat down on Will and Lyra’s bench, got out their lunch bags, and had their picnic lunch in the garden that brought them together.
“When I go to Oxford, I’m going to walk round here every day.” Eleven-year-old Eleanor Peterson said to her parents Sarah and Dave as they walked around Oxford Botanic Garden.
“That would be nice, sweetheart,” Sarah said to Eleanor.
Eleanor had long wanted to get into Oxford, ever since she was seven in fact.
Janet Foster, a friend of Eleanor’s in the village, was a student at Oxford, and Eleanor really wanted to follow her footsteps.
Eleanor’s academic career so far was dedicated to getting as good grades as possible so that she could get into Oxford.
So far, so good. But now Eleanor was being transferred to a dodgy comprehensive school with terrible Ofsted results. She was going to get good GCSE and A Level grades anyway, but she was worried that just being associated with such a school would scupper her chances.
Her parents, particularly her dad, had told her that she would roam the cloisters of Oxford regardless of what school she went too, but she wasn’t so sure.
“Are you sure going to Zanzibar won’t affect my chances of getting in?” Eleanor asked.
“No. If it did, then you shouldn’t really be going to Oxford anyway,” Dave said. “Any institution that snobbish you should stay as far away from as possible.”
“But I read an article about Zanzibar, and it worried me.” Eleanor said. “It said that the school got “inadequate” for the tenth year running and that all the students got very bad exam results and ended up either in prison or homeless.”
“That sounds like a very judgemental article,” Dave said, “you shouldn’t take everything you read on the internet seriously.”
“I read it in the Observer.” Eleanor said.
“Whatever,” Dave said. Not knowing how else to respond.
“It’s lunch time, let’s have our picnic here.” Sarah said.
So the Peterson’s sat down on the grass and had their picnic.
“Look,” Dave said, “Janet grew up poor on a farm then lived with a Catholic Priest and went to two very strict Catholic schools, yet she got into Oxford. I’m sure you’ll get in too.”
“If you say so.” Eleanor said before taking a bite into her white bread crust-less tuna and cucumber sandwiches her parents had made for her.
Eleanor looked around at her surroundings. She had long wanted these gardens to be a regular haunt. It all seemed so certain, but now it hanged in the balance.
Well, she thought, she can live in hope.