I went for a wander today and realised the dead of winter is not dead at all. There is flowering yellow jasmine along the drive, camellias, brave jonquils sticking their heads up and my beautiful japonica that you pick when in bud and will last for weeks in a vase, getting more spectacular every day.
Gardening has been a huge part of my life. And I can assure you I began with a zero knowledge.
Gardening, in the country, is both rewarding and challenging on so many different levels. There is the green finger sorcery that gets the plant up and running. I must say, I fall a little short in this department. There are so many pitfalls, tail-wagging dogs enthusiastically digging up your newly planted petunias, voracious snails on their nightly forays, kids and their footballs, cockatoos and their random destruction. My worst nightmare was the plague of grasshoppers that arrived and didn’t leave until they had demolished every leaf in the garden. Every blade of grass – they even had a go at the green curtains.
Not to mention rain, too much rain, not enough rain, wind, snow – now that really does leave behind a swathe of destruction.
Rural gardens depend on water from dams. So you need a pump that works. Or you have a tank – that has a tendency to run out of water when you need it most. Fertiliser comes from under the shearing shed with a whole heap of back breaking work. Shade and protection are simply not there in a young garden. Then there’s every plant disease and insect known to man and then some – I’m sure I’ve discovered some newbies. Now you wonder why we do it?
Before making your way through all that, though, there is the landscaping vision of what to put where. Try to imagine a stick in the ground reaching twenty metres up into the sky and twenty metres around. Actually that is impossible. Making beds and putting in steps and making rooms and paths and walls – now that I really do love.
Edna Walling is an early twentieth century gardener and a bit like a patron saint for gardeners. ‘Describing one of her gardens – there are glorious formal expanses with a distinctive poetic style, wild and undulating areas with interesting pathways, tempting gateways and dark mysterious pools.’
I think she’s like Emily Bronte. She created so much passion in the sprawling wonder of her gardens much like Bronte’s melding of Catherine and Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights. Don’t be afraid of opposites attracting. She was quite extraordinary. She built cottages. She advocated layering, structure, pruning and shifting. Giving the garden it’s head. Letting things fall onto paths and sweep round corners. So many of these words apply to writing. Did you know that layering is recognised as an important feature of writing?
Writing is so like gardening for me. I let things fall and take root, I feed and water my ideas, my characters, I try to layer my story. Sometimes I have to transplant and I definitely have to prune heavily. But to watch blossom unfolding and a tree, or my story, growing strong , taking root, is simply wonderful.
Lilac buds getting ready for spring