If picking marigold seeds and scattering them around `my garden’ counts as gardening, then I began at 3. I watched them germinate and thrilled – I can think of no better word – when they flowered. They were yellow and orange, bright and brassy, big fat African marigolds. Between the careful decoration of mud pies and attempts to reach my 5 older siblings climbing up trees, I’d examine my garden. Ah, the 1960’s.
Sometimes, now, I pick up a pot with a flowering crocus, check the label, and note that I’ve grown this, miraculously, from seed; but I don’t get the thrill I got at 3. I was watching, learning nature’s tricks, and I was very impressed.
I shared my patch with 2 sisters for a time but – luckily for me – they lost interest after a year or two.
Mum was both botanist and gardener and this was her first large garden, about one third of an acre in Melbourne’s south east, on gray sandy soil. She established about 20 fruit trees, an ornamental garden and a huge veg patch but we had room here for playing, and for our play gardens. We had, not one, but 2 treehouses; what is more exciting? I progressed to growing peas later on (Yum!) but - in my slightly shaded spot – I couldn’t compete with Mum’s prowess so it seemed less satisfying. Surely I wasn’t yet a perfectionist.
African marigolds are Calendula (which I haven’t grown since) while French marigolds are Tagetes, usually shorter and neater. A French marigold called `Naughty Mariette’ – I am not making this up – is on the seed lists just now, tempting. This reminds me of a tale my mother would relate about her father, a gardener also. (I don’t remember my English grandfathers, alas.) He was a raconteur I’m told, a man who enjoyed shocking the vicar – just a little – and liked to say that he’d found a `Bachelor’s Button in Black-eyed Susan’s bed’; both flowers of course. (A gentler time, perhaps, or was the English middle class too easily scandalized?)
I loved hearing about his garden: that the veg patch was clipped-box edged and behind the box, along the main axis, was alternating Paeony Roses and Madonna Lilies. That he loved topiary and occasionally picked clove-scented carnations to give eyes to the peacocks of deepest jade. And how, at 13 or so, Mum was shown how to prune the fruit trees; suddenly, in the early days of the second world war, as the eldest child she was given this important task while the elders were too busy. This was the late 1930’s and I’d never anticipated seeing anything like this garden, had thought it’s like gone. But when I visited the garden of English plantsman Christopher Lloyd (below) in 2010 I felt an unexpected strong, visceral connection as if I was at last seeing in the flesh (or in the green) what I’d heard about, often, and imagined. This was just as I’d thought! And the owner, too, was just as difficult, or had been. As this happened 4 decades after the tale was told, it was a strong, unexpected echo which resonated deeply. This may, I suppose, happen to all children of immigrants when they visit their second country, the land of myths and tales.
From childhood Melbourne, fast forward 2 decades and we see my own first adult garden and attempts at my first (real) edible patch. I’d moved in with J and attempted to display my overwhelming love with this unusual use of lettuce seeds. I like fun in the garden and `J heart J’ (above) was a spontaneous experiment…which he didn’t notice.
I’ve repeated this recently although why I thought a mix of old seeds would germinate in the shade in late autumn was purely due to my usual ridiculous optimism. Watching and waiting…so I planted broad bean seeds, large, collected from old plants last year (free!), and each one sown in May now enthusiastically waving about young leaves. So now…not one up! June’s cold seems to have seeped into the soil and whispered sleepy, narcotic lullabies to the keepers of DNA.
So we trim back the kiwi fruit and consider judicious pruning of eucalypts to the north of the veg garden. Maybe we need cloches? Cold frames? Or just patience? And where does one go to buy patience? It’d be rare and expensive
now, that’s for sure.