Wednesday, 26 November 2008
For most of my life I have had large gardens. As a child I used to wander around the family garden, checking what was in bloom and admiring the tiger lilies. I have always loved plants and flowers. In my first garden we started off with a new house and new block, and apart from the weeds, it was bare. But we did have a large gum tree.
In those days, forty years ago now, the Government encouraged the greening of Canberra by allowing every household free plants from the Government Nursery. You were given ten trees and forty shrubs. It was fun making an expedition to the Government Nursery in Yarralumla, and choosing the plants. There were some very ordinary species, such as cotoneasters, but there were some beauties as well. Native plants were becoming more generally available, thanks to the influence of garden landscapers like Edna Walling. The National Botanical Gardens were opened about 1970 by the then Prime Minister John Gorton, with possibly his wordiest and most convoluted speech ever, and these gardens displayed native plants in all their beauty. We quickly became very keen on the native Australian plants, the eucalyptus varieties, the wattles, callistemons, prostantheras, but kept our love of non-Australian plants as well.
Canberra has a difficult climate, with hot dry summers and very cold winters, occasionally even snowing, and with temperatures well below zero at night during winter. I know this probably sounds pathetically mild to non-Australians, but for us here it is a cold climate. While Canberra was being established, the Government Botanist did a lot of work to try and establish which plants could tolerate the climatic extremes, and he did very well. Canberra is now a very beautiful place, with the trees and shrubs now mature, and springtime is a time of great beauty.
So back in the 1960s and 1970s, I watched my little garden grow. I'd always loved camellias and azaleas, so had a few of those, and we also planted a lot of bulbs. Roses, alas, were never successful for me, possibly because I could not resist planting around them. I planted a little patch of low growing plants underneath the clothes hoist, and got very upset when one of my daughter's friends decided to pick a bunch of flowers, and thus halved the size of the plants. My children knew better than to go picking flowers without permission and supervision!
The next house was part of a medium density housing project, intended to be a community of like-minded people, with common facilities. This also started out as 72 new houses, and thus landscaping and paths had to be done from scratch. The project ran out of money. It seems the architect was not diligent enough in his supervision and the builders less than scrupulous in their respect for the ownership of building materials and value for money. Thus things like paths were left undone, and the community had to resort to working bees, where we laid brick paths on sand, using wedge shaped kiln bricks, and planted a lot of native plants in the common areas. Otherwise we would have had to trudge through mud indefinitely. Individual landscaping around houses was the responsibility of each household. It took a long time to get our garden established, as my husband, while keen to do the community work, was averse to doing anything around our place. However it did gradually get done, with some fancy landscaping by one of the neighbours who was a landscape architect. Because our house was on the edge of a block of five conjoined houses, we were able to spread out and create gardens in all directions.
Eventually I had a lovely garden, full of natives, camellias, azaleas, bulbs, perennials, numerous trees, shrubs and herbs, and a vegetable and herb garden of sorts. I spent a lot of time in the garden. We had plants flowering in all seasons.
After the marriage ended I stayed in the house, and continued the gardening. But eventually, some years after re-marrying, I left Canberra and moved to Sydney.
We live in the inner west, and around here gardens almost don't exist. And plant varieties are limited. There are frangipannis, lots of bougainvilleas in glorious colours , Chinese star jasmines, murrayas, agapanthus, quite a few dreary palms, and a plethora of gardenias. Sydney gardeners like to prune severely. Understandable, as everything grows here like green bay trees, but there is not much else to be said in favour of the rigorously and religiously shorn look. In fact, in the apartments complex opposite, they come and prune every month, starting at about 6 am (along with the aeroplanes flying directly overhead, so don't even think about sleeping in...) and suddenly all the plants have a rounded and shorn appearance.
Our house had a plunge pool when we bought it, and after a while we filled it in and I turned it into a garden. It is not very big, possibly two by three metres. But into this space I have crowded:
a Chinese star jasmine on the trellis
a kaffir lime
and a bay tree.
It is not rational to overplant like this, but so far it looks quite good.
The garden is divided into two parts by steps coming from the garage to the back entrance of the house. There is a small clothesline on the other side, and two small garden patches. I have a curry tree, a lemon verbena, an osmanthus, a sacred bamboo, some day lilies, another Chinese star jasmine, rosemary, daphne, and some very invasive alstroemerias - the red and green variety. They are beautiful but don't make good cut flowers, as they drop sticky bits all over the place. Recently I yanked out huge handfuls of them, but evidently I missed a lot, as they are flowering as though they had never been disturbed. Even the man of the house noticed and admired them but he likes any red flowers.
So far, this garden has thrived on competition. Just like the way the free market is supposed to operate. I fondly hope it continues to do so. And the market, of course. But at the moment it looks as though I need to get out there with the secateurs. The bay tree is now taller than I am and I think it has suckered again. I know they can be pruned drastically, but I just hate to do it.
Out the front there is an extremely tiny space, but I manage to grow another rosemary, lemon grass, lots of parsley, oregano, thyme, and a couple of rather pathetic Iceberg roses. Occasionally I would plant something with flowers, but generally these would be stolen within a couple of days, so I gave up. I have a small cumquat in a pot, but it suffers from the hot sun and irregular watering. Fortunately down the road there are several large cumquat trees on the street and I manage to harvest enough of the fruit to make cumquat marmalade.
I really miss my large garden in Canberra. It has been seriously affected by the drought, and possibly neglected as well. Perhaps one day I might manage to have a real garden again but I will probably be so decrepit I'd have to hire a gardener to look after it.
One of the pleasures of reading blogs is seeing photos of the bloggers' gardens. I read of lily of the valley being a pest. It was something I never managed to grow successfully. I have a friend in Canberra who manages to grow it, and also real snowflakes. Sigh. But she is English and knows about these things.