I love the quote above from Alice Walker, the American writer and author of ‘The Colour Purple’. It resonates with me and encapsulates so much in just a few words. Although I never set out in search of my mothers garden, her gardens were magnificent and memorable. When you grow up playing in a beautiful landscape, it becomes an inherent part of who you are. However, an extensive garden was not part of my life for any length of time until recently. So, when my rural garden began to grow, I never realised that all those hours spent as a child had actually given me the basic knowledge of horticulture. Quite naturally, I knew more about plants, soils, roses and trees than I had imagined.
Even so, I am a beginner gardener, and I am surprised when I suddenly know the name of a plant buried deep in my memory. I must have been paying attention after all.
My mother was a true gardener. A gardener who had an abundance of plants and could easily cut and pull them out for the unexpected visitor as they wandered the garden. Small treasures to take home and strike in their own gardens. This was done with the minimum of fuss and left no visible signs of attack or empty space. This of course was reciprocated when as a family we visited friends. The visit would no doubt include a stroll in the garden where we ended up with armfuls of plants rolled up in newspaper to take home.
My mother’s own garden at Avalon and later in the Blue Mountains was full of stories from homes and gardens she had visited. A walk around the garden could take hours simply because of all the stories of where each plant had come from and who had given her the original cutting. The sentiment is depicted so well by Amy Stewart, author of ‘From The Ground Up’ 2001
“Like a chain letter, I will take a plant from this garden to the next and from the next garden to the one after that, and so on, until someday I am an old woman nurturing along a patchwork quilt of a garden, with cuttings and scraps from every garden I tended before.”
This is gardening to me. A sanctuary with plants that hold stories of what was before us, what has been gifted to us and what are important legacies to look after for posterity. I was dearly surprised one day as we walked around my mother’s garden and she showed me some bulbs that had been in my first home at Kangaroo Valley. Shrubs that had been struck from cuttings in many of the gardens where I had lived over the years from my early days in Queen Street Forbes to Perth gardens and later Beecroft. There were roses growing across an archway in her Wentworth Falls garden that had been a small gift I had purchased from a plant shop in Orange. Now huge and grown beyond recognition from the tiny plant I had presented her with many years before.
This aspect is the essence of ‘to garden’ and comes rich with stories and tales of the origins of our plant collections. In my own small garden space, I have a few tales of where the plants originated and the odd remnants of earlier custodians which are extremely precious and make the garden special. My daughter and I both have an indoor begonia that dates back to a purchase in Warriewood in the early 1970s by my father. It has managed to stay alive despite numerous moves and frost mishaps, which is quite a life for an indoor plant.
Most of my garden roses and plants come from various nurseries either visited or online but they, like garden cuttings, have their own stories. When I read my favourite nursery catalogues or websites like The Yellow House, Lambley, Lynne’s Rare Plants, and Silkies Rose Garden I enjoy the tales they share with us as customers about a small cutting gained from a particular person in the horticultural world that they have nurtured and grown over the years. The garden world is full of these stories and I love to know where plants were sourced from and how they came to be propagated.
Gardening to me is the opportunity to relish in the changing seasons. If you are lucky enough to live with four distinct seasons you will know what I mean. The garden changes dramatically through the seasons. Winter dormancy and Autumn are great times of year to move plants around that are either not suited for sun exposure either having too much or too little or for colour scheme adjustments. And of course, if a plant is just not doing well, a move is often all that is needed for it to turn around and flourish.
My weekends as a child were often spent in the garden where my parents would garden long into the late afternoon light and at times rearrange plants in their garden beds. So, dodging the funnel-web spiders hidden in the garden they would move huge shrubs and other plants to new locations. All the landscaping was done themselves as well. In those days one did everything and there was no thought of hiring a landscaper to build rock paths and steps or to help them tame the bushland surrounding the house. Areas of the garden were allocated for our enjoyment in digging in the dirt whilst they went about the moveable plant game and day in the garden. No wonder this is also what I like to do.
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Content by Di Baker October 2019 All Rights Reserved