I don’t consider myself a gardener, yet there is something about Spring that sees me making trips to local nurseries and hardware stores and trying once more to update and improve my little piece of land.
The gardening gene appears to have skipped me, but was strong in both my grandmothers, who even had botanical names – Lily and Ivy.
My maternal grandmother had a beautiful garden full of a myriad of flowers and greenery, from delicate little violets to stunning giant magnolias and everything in between. She would often give a posy of homegrown or sometimes purchased blooms for special occasions, both happy and sad – birthdays, a physical culture concert (my first and only) or when someone was unwell or grieving. I remember accompanying her to her local florist one school holidays to create a living bowl of flowering plants to give to a family who had lost a beloved child. She loved gardens and gardening and we all sniggered and rolled our eyes rather unkindly when she came back from her only trip to England with just garden photos to share. “There’s Nanna smiling in front of yet another flowerbed,” we laughed.
Mum’s baby brother took this gardening gene to the next level, building a successful business as a landscape gardener and even propagating new plants, including a clivia he named after my Nanna. My sister and I have a clivia grown from the original propagated by him and gifted to my mother. On my Spring holiday to do list is repotting mine and removing pups for my brother and daughter.
My paternal grandparents grew beautiful camelias in high hedges and I remember the flowers being placed around the house in water bowls and low vases. Sometimes Nanna even pinned one to her clothing, as an exquisite living brooch. Their backyard felt like another world and although not huge, felt like it contained a thousand rooms which I loved exploring as a child and into my teens.
Fast forward to my parents and I remember sometimes spending part of my Saturdays helping to maintain our rather wild suburban backyard. I did not love it. We had rock orchids, agaves and azaleas that seemingly grew themselves in the front yard. Once I had my own front yard and attempted to grow azaleas, I sadly realised this was not, in fact, the case at all. The backyard was dominated by a huge Norfolk Island Pine which I loved to climb. It made me feel on top of the world, most definitely the king of the castle. It also provided a place of refuge and retreat so essential for a child who always shared a bedroom and never truly felt like I had a space of my own. Sharing the backyard, were an orange tree with fruit suitable only for making marmalade and an intensely sour lemon tree. As a young child, I remember poking a stick into the lemons to pierce their skin, then sucking the mouth-puckering sour juice out before discarding the juice’s shell. We didn’t love the fruit from our backyard trees, but the possums certainly did and our beloved next door neighbour fed and cared for them. I recall being ushered outside one night, snug in our pyjamas and dressing gowns to watch silently as she reached into a mother possum’s pouch and pulled out a tiny joey for us to see. The same neighbour had a huge mulberry tree in her yard, which we would feast on in season, staining our fingers purple and collect leaves from to feed silk worms.
I certainly don’t have a green thumb and although I enjoy my houseplants which provided me with something to do during covid lockdowns and somehow multiplied all of their own accord, I admit I have recently managed to kill 2 houseplants and a succulent bowl. I am a serial herb garden devotee, experiencing short term success before throwing it in, over and over again. I currently have plans to repurpose an old fire pit exterior into a raised herb garden bed, the metal interior having long since rusted through. My husband’s level of support is summed up by his recent words, “You’ll only kill them again and it’s easier to just buy herbs.”
Despite my lack of recent successes in the garden, I have a deep love of highly fragrant blooms and am bitterly disappointed when commercial roses lack a scent. I adore the fragrance of freshly opened roses and did successfully grow roses for a while. It’s no accident my daughter’s middle name is Rose. It honours her great grandmothers on my side as well as my grandfather who gifted me several rose bushes, and signifies my favourite flowers, at least until I discovered peonies. I believe the love of these blooms continues into the next generation and was touched when she included them in her wedding bouquets earlier this year.
Who would have thought that all these rambling memories could be sparked by the heady scent of my humble little Port Wine Magnolia hedge? This hedge divides our town house’s tiny backyard from public parkland behind our home and the miniature blooms are the best they’ve ever been, six years after planting. They are of great interest to native bees who are constant visitors. So, not only do we get to enjoy their intoxicating scent, beauty and the privacy their hedge affords us, but they also achieve my dream of a sweetly scented, bee attracting garden requiring minimal care or maintenance.
Now to get my hands dirty and plant some new gardenias alongside the magnolia hedge.