let's start at the very beginning

Monday, 15 February 2010

Victory garden

sea foam rose in backyard

If I recovered next week I would garden from morning ‘til night. As things are now, I settle for thinking about gardening from morning ‘til night. It’s a lovely thing.

I’ve been flicking through a couple of Edna Walling books and wondering if I’ve found one of my garden soul-mates. She loved erigeron (seaside daisy) - until now I had never come across a garden writer, or anyone at all for that matter, who loves erigeron like I do. Edna also loved birch trees, dry stone walls, and bossing people around. Say no more.

I germinated some erigeron and my husband planted them out. The seedlings are doing splendidly and flowering with gusto. I show them to visitors, but perplexingly, there have been no cartwheels in honour of their brilliance.

When I was a whipper-snapper I thought gardening was boring, although I loved my grandmothers’ gardens.

Granny (maternal side) and Papa’s garden is a cottage garden in the true sense - a mixture of productive and ornamental plants. It tells the story of their life together and emanates simplicity, charm, and grace. There’s a small vineyard in one corner, a nod to Papa’s profession as a viticulturist. They are instinctive and knowledgeable plants-people, if I grow up with a skerrick of their combined knowledge I’ll be thrilled. Their garden is my favourite place in the world. When I travel in my mind to my happy place, that’s where I go. I'm not sure I'll see it again in this lifetime - I'm in Queensland and they're in South Australia, but it will always be my sliver of heaven.

Nana (paternal side) and Grandpa’s garden in Victoria was more formal. Beautiful mass-planted roses by the house, agapanthus along the drive. A whacking great bunya pine. I never saw either of them gardening, Nana worked full-time and Grandpa wasn’t well so I think they had a man who came to help, but Nana adored the garden. I remember helping her water the roses, she was always reminding me to give them a nice long drink. I also remember splashing in the bird bath as a baby, no matter the people who say you can’t remember things that far back.

In my early 20s I travelled from Queensland to Adelaide to convalesce at Granny and Papa’s, and spent many hours on the cane lounge gazing out the window at the hollyhocks, quince tree, lavender, and all the other wonders. On my return home, my mother gave me some herbs to grow in pots on the verandah. I toppled into garden love. As love so often does, it took me by surprise. I was much stronger than I am now and could garden a little bit, though no heavy work. I used to read the same Digger’s catalogue for three hours at a time. My passion continued fully-fledged until I had the Great Relapse of 2004 which coincided with an apartment-living lifestyle and the prison of bed. Along with any activity not related to basic survival, my garden involvement shrivelled up. In 2005 I started this blog, a little garden of words, instead.

Now I’m a born-again gardenista, working on finding ways to participate in a garden of dirt and leaves and weeds. My body is still recalcitrant - very much so, but I love gardening with my eyes. I’m the garden sentinel, or maybe the garden is mine. There is something so perfectly hopeful about a growing plant. Each bud that emerges is a victory, an unspeakable beauty, a bold solace, a declaration of the natural rhythm of growth and expansion. The plants are generous enough to share all that with me. I thank them.


  1. This was like reading about myself. Before I got sick, I didn't care at all about gardening. My life was about raising my kids and then about my job. But lying in bed, looking out the windows to our backyard, I've fallen in love with plants. I browse through books and internet sites, imagining what I'd do if I only could. I think that being sick forced me to slow down enough to notice the beauty of a plant. But it's also true that I think I've created a fantasy world about gardening that doesn't include weeding and pruning and fertilizing.

    It's the beginning of spring in the Central Valley of California and yesterday I noticed that all the first plants that are coming up are what we've labelled weeds, like dandelions and clover. I think they're beautiful but then, I don't have to go out and pull them out of the ground!

    Thanks for the post.

    Toni in Davis, CA

  2. We have have many snowdrops here, and the crocus shoots are just beginning to show. I can't wait for the tulips, my absolute favourite. Happy gardening, honey... x

  3. Hi Toni, lovely to hear from you. Your website is great - I had a good look at it recently. (I was going to leave a comment there but couldn't figure out how.) I like clover too, as do the bees!

    nmj, snowdrops are just beautiful, and I share your tulip love. As far as I know we can't grow them here though, it's not nippy enough.

  4. You could try the old trick of storing the bulbs in the veggie crisper, to convince the tulips that they've had a winter under the snow?

  5. Catherine (previously sofamum)21/2/10

    Hello after a very long absence! I loved your post about gardening. It is me exactly too. How many long hours I've spent "gardening with my eyes" as you so beautifully put it. The way you express things about our ME existence that I have felt but never quite articulated always takes my breath away. I would love to get back in touch but have lost your email address. If you still have mine, please drop me a line!

  6. I've been wondering about that fridge trick Foodycat (I just deleted a typo wherein I called you 'Footycat'!) - it could be a goer. The main thing I want to avoid is having to dig the bulbs up and storing them for a season. I don't know if tulips fall into that category though, will do some research.

    Hi Catherine! Will drop you a line, I still have your address, I think of you often.

  7. I can honestly say that you seem to be THE most positive soul I have ever encountered. How do you do it???

  8. Hi Lee Lee, nice to see you. :)

    I am usually chipper, it seems to be my default setting; but like all of us, some days I well and truly have my cranky pants on!

  9. i've just discovered your blog courtesy of nasim...and immediately drawn in by your gorgeous writing. (always good to see another australian too) i never thought i'd be one to garden - or to crochet for that matter! however as i've progressed from my bedridden days i've found just how much joy and pleasure there is in nurturing something and watching it grow. somehow it gives me hope every time i see something flower or...well, basically not die. long way to go still with this black thumb unfortunately.

    anyway, will continue to follow with interest - so glad i found you.

  10. Hi kp, really great to meet you! There is so much joy in nurturing something and watching it grow, I love it - although there have been a few plant fatalities on my watch, I must confess...

  11. Anonymous26/5/11

    My neighbour planted a hibiscus for me. It bloomed this year on day of my brothers funeral. I kept it going through the hot Perth summer and it bloomed again on Mothers Day. My brother died 19 months after my Mum. I had not seen him for many years. Its been very hard to see anyone since I relapsed. The sighting of this pretty pink flower was such a gift in what has turned into a nightmare of existence. Not being able to go to funerals or see people the flowers are my link to the memories. I still have a frangipani that needs to be planted for my father and friend who died 4 years ago.

  12. Anonymous, thank you for sharing this story about the beautiful pink flowering hibiscus and what it has meant to you. It sounds like such a gift. I am very sorry to hear of the loss of your mother and brother, and also sorry to hear how hard things have been since you relapsed. So much loss for one person, I am glad the flower has been a link to your memories. I hope your frangipani can be planted some day, at least they are hardy and will thrive in a pot indefinitely - if I lived closer I'd find someone to plant it for you.

  13. This is like a breath of fresh air in a fight against myalgic encephalomyelitis, Chronic fatigue.

    I wish you all the best

    Sam @ www.samandme.org

  14. Delphiniums are a favorite of many gardeners and sometimes a challenge. They prefer moist, cool summers and do not fare well in hot, dry summers. The plants also dislike sudden wind or rain.


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