Stay with me peeps, this is not a mulch or seaweed soil conditioner segment (while I am interested to know more of both I fear their boring factor is too high even for Megoracle). It is more a tribute to the pastime of gardening because while it’s probably very uncool but I’m quite passionate about it. I know this because…(begin convoluted story that may or may not contain a hidden message if not a moral).
Once down on a time, I fell in love with a rose called Julia. My mum has them in abundance at my childhood home; they are the kind of colour you might have tried to replicate in silk or taffeta for your (ok my) leavers’ dinner dress back in the early 90’s, but never quite got there. It’s a dark, dusty pink colour with brown in it that blow it you just can’t describe so you have to show it:
Lovely no? Anyway, whether or not you relate to my love for Julia’s Rose, I will continue…When I built my current garden from virtually nothing, I planted a climbing Julia at the front of our house, gave her lattice to climb, fed her, watched her grow, pruned her and netted her from bastard wallabies and possums. This year I gave her extra special fertiliser as per expert advice and she flowered like never before. I had her blooms to gaze upon (with a healthy dose of pride – I instagrammed and all) for about a week before the possums climbed the wire netting and ate every one, without sparing the baby buds. Every. Single. One.
Yep, I came home from 3 days away to find that abduction and murder had occurred in my absence. And I blubbered like it was my babies taken, and wanted to commit a similar revenge style crime on the enormous possum colony that favours MY patch. Honestly, if a possum had mozied past at that moment I would have punched it right in the nose. This was worse than any grubby tactics the filthy vermin had pulled on me throughout our years of all out war – even the time I left my car door open and they shat no where but on my driver’s seat, or the time a suicide bomber possum bit through the wiring to the kitchen, blew the power and later gassed the house with its dead smell and dropped maggot shrapnel through the ceiling. No, this time, with Juliacide, it got real. I wanted blood, which for a pacifist softie can’t-squash-a-snail type person is really saying something.
It got me thinking about how much emotion I plant in with my seaweed and sheep poos laden soil. Too much? I get fidgety if I haven’t have some time with my garden for a few days and downright violent with weeds. And now I want to bludgeon Australia’s native animals (when most of my beloveds were introduced by some homesick Englishman a few hundred years ago). Am I irrational in my commitment to a (frankly chaotic) bunch of leaves, branches and petals?
To take it up a level, to create a garden is for me, creating something I will be tied to forever. Leaving doesn’t come easy when there’s a garden involved. Take my childhood home. I was boundlessly fortunate to grow up in what to me is the most beautiful place in the world. There is no doubt that a very happy family life underscores my rosy perception of the place, but I really believe that the garden is central to my misty eyed homesick-tinged memories. These days I have a new home that’s all ocean and green pasture it is probably another front runner to the most beautiful place. I love it here, it is the one and only place for my children and my farmer. I’m very happy, but a large part of my heart is back in the garden of my childhood and will be forever. When I think of lovely long summers and happy lunches and childhood games, I think of that garden. When I think of perfect happiness I think of that garden.
It’s more than a love of nature isn’t it; I mean, weeds are plants too and yet and frequently rip their heads off and poison their roots (not to mention my ruthless intentions for the possums – i.e. throwing she-oak spongs at them). And it’s more than being practical and sustainable because while I’ve loved planting the veggie garden and eating what I grow, the veggie patch** is a different realm and while other arsehole trespassers eat my roses I do not. No, it’s about aesthetics really isn’t it? Beauty? And pride in what you have done to create it? It’s about the practice of tending to something that thanks you with glorious beauty. Even as I write this (and listen to me I’m getting a romantic tone), my blue ixia is nodding to me through the window, and the smile I send it back is involuntary.
But again there’s more to it than beauty and showing off (but I would never do that – see all the pictures of my SUPERB work in the garden).
It’s the process. I feel hard working and pure and peaceful when I’m working in the garden. I love that you can think a job is too huge to ever finish, but put your head down and do it bit by bit and when you look up again you will have finished in surprisingly short (and very satisfying) time. I love that I’m keeping fit and productive at the same time. I feel like a good mother (which is rare) when I teach my children about plants the way my mother did me. I want them to grow up knowing the real name of the snowball tree and that strawberry plants like pine needles, even if this knowledge seems frivolous and perhaps they should be learning how to feed the world and speak Mandarin. But as American poet May Sarton said, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” Don’t we all need to learn a little patience and God knows I need some grace.
And why, when last year I toured about 8 truly magical gardens in the Derwent Valley last year, did I find myself drawn to the English-ness of them? Why do I favour cottage style gardens and manicured park land? I know it’s partly because I was born to it, and partly due to taste, but what is that teary-bursty-yearning feeling I have when I walk through a beautiful English style garden? Was I a rose in a former life (nice thought but unlikely)? Am I overwhelmed by
inspiration and wistfulness for the garden I haven’t yet achieved? Am I in awe of what people are achieving in their own backyards, unbeknown to most of us, while we’re complaining about commute times and the price of take away? Do I wish I were back home, aged 7 making potions and playing lost crippled little girls (croquet mallets were our crutches – these days not very PC) with my sister? Is it a time-obsured connection with my ancestral roots in the mother-country? I do agree with the principle behind native gardens but England is after all part of my heritage as well as Australia and I think it’s okay to wave my bloomers in high salute to that. Maybe it’s all of these things that made all those English gardens sing to me; I don’t know. As Margaret Atwood puts it, “Gardening is not a rational act,” so I won’t try to rationalise it anymore. But the swollen-in-love feeling has stayed with me to a degree ever since.*
I must not go on because I’m conscious there are many who just don’t relate and who (wisely) opt for low maintenance landscaping – although they probably made their leave before the end of the header. But I will say that, as the following brainy philosophical observations reveal, gardening is so much more than digging and planting…
“A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit” – D. Elton Trueblood (American author and theologian).
“Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are” – Alfred Austin (English poet)
“Possums are dickheads” – Meg Bignell, of Megoracle and very large brain
Ok, on the possum issue, I just have to breath, garner my love-all-creatures spirit and appreciate what they haven’t eaten (see superb examples above). And maybe think of roses as possum jubes. I mean if there was a large bowl of jubes on a table I would probably eat a handful, and if my friends were with me we’d probably eat the whole lot. Maybe Julia’s rose is the lemon jube of the possum jube bowl. I love the lemon ones.
Ok now the Ixia has stopped nodding and is beckoning – I’m pushing off, this is high growth weather and there are weeds to massacre.
*Incidentally (and shamelessly plugging a good cause), many of these gardens are open again this Sunday (11th November), including the one I skipped (and limped pathetically) about in as a child. So if you have a day free you MUST go, whether you’re a gardener or not you will love it (you can send me abuse if you don’t). Not only will it be good for your soul, it is all for a wonderful cause. The Alcorso Foundation will charge a small fee to visit the gardens and funds go toward their arts, environment and social justice causes in Tasmania. Springtime and Social Justice – what can be better than that? I can’t wait, it might be dorky but it’s a new annual highlight for me. Come and visit the garden I grew up in – I’ll be there, so will my bogans and the Julias.
** One more shameless plug. While we’re on veggie gardens, my community will be holding the inaugural Bream Creek Farmer’s Market on Sunday 2nd Dec from 9 – 2. It will be brilliant, please come along and pick up some fresh produce, good coffee, good feeling. I’ll be there with my barrow of goodness (and maybe even my guitar). A farmer’s market is the definition of wholesome family goodness (wait, maybe I’ll leave the guitar at home).