I tend to tell you about the action and adventure in my vegie garden, but my front garden takes as much of my time, energy and passion (and water, pyrethrum and seaweed solution).
Both let me blow off some steam after work with some digging or weeding. Both can make me happy — I don’t even need to be standing in them; a glance out the back door while I’m standing at the kitchen bench, waiting for the kettle to boil, lets me see the silverbeet, new tomato bush and nectarine tree. The large windows of my living room frame the colour of my front garden and sometimes, I do not need a book or the TV for company, I just sit and absorb the peace and beauty of the garden. On the weekend, I did yoga with a friend and it was fitting to do tree pose with my strong, flexible cut-leaf birches in view. I could make myself as tall and majestic as they were.
When I first moved into my house seven years ago, the front yard was almost a desert. There was a rough lawn and a thin front border housing undernourished box hedge plants (that would never make an actual hedge) and a couple of trees that not even my parents could identify.
Garden plans went on the back burner while I tended to necessary house things (painting, new windows, heating, new awning — it never seems to stop with a house, does it?). But I drew up plans of sweeping new garden beds and pathways, and dreamt of colour and perfume and bees and birds and the deep happiness that would come from a beautiful flower garden.
Over a couple of years, my wonderful dad made those sweeping beds and pathways for me. We removed those box hedges and weird trees (they now have a much happier life at my parents’ place; apparently the tree has been named after me) and we brought in soil and lawn. Over a couple of springs, we planted new trees, cuttings struck by mum, and seeds. Gardens take time — while I yearned desperately for my front garden, I knew that, short of having a TV show barrel in and do a blitz, the best gardens really do take years.
And maybe that’s what makes me love my garden so much. I can look at almost every shrub or tree and recall its planting and brief history. I can remember the hard times digging when the soil wouldn’t yield, when the penstemons turned belly up, when the red salvia took over and needed to be removed for the sake of the other surrounding plants.
I remember looking out my front window during the bleakness of winter time, being depressed by the frost-ravaged pelargoniums and the lilacs and new climbing roses that were mere sticks. I remember thinking things would never get better.
But slowly, the garden came back to life, and right now it is riotously abundant. My favourite view at the moment is where fluorescent-coral pelargoniums cushion the mauve flag irises, which have sprung triumphant in the last week or so. A couple of near-black irises frame either end of this tableaux, as do some of my favourite cut flowers, ranunculas.
But if I turn around, there’s the small white lilac, in only its second year of flowering, surrounded by wonderfully old-fashioned foxgloves, and purple aquilegias that may be covered in aphids but are also weighed down by droning bumblebees. And there’s a pink variegated weigela tree, so girly-pretty, competing with the darker, more sophisticated pink of the deeply scented boronia. To smell that on a warm summer’s evening is indeed heaven on earth.
Can you tell I love gardens – real, old-fashioned gardens? Not low-maintenance spiky cordylines in glazed pots sitting sadly on sterile, gravel beddings. As back-breaking and tear-inducing as it can be, give me a garden that requires maintenance; that requires tending and weeding and watering. Because while I’m doing that, I’m also admiring, relaxing, enjoying. I’m listening to the blackbirds sing and those bumblebees buzz, and maybe some distant lawnmower too; smelling the jasmine and the cut grass; and being rewarded by the colours and textures and joy of beautiful, beautiful flowers.