A bat squeak of an echo in time is how Audrey Niffenegger puts it in The Time Traveller’s Wife: when a whiff of information (or it could be a faint sound or a fragrance) resonates down a vortex in time and space and seemingly (in this case) beyond the grave too.
Mum was botanist, gardener, horticulturist, intellectual, teacher. (And she was the fungi lady of Emerald, too.)
I have been admiring the wattles blooming with their lemon rods or golden balls and remembered Mum showing me the local plants when I was a little girl; of the 6 of us, I think I was the most interested in plants, I loved my little garden, I basked in the rare attention, and I soaked up the names and lore: Dusty Miller (`See, it looks like a baker has wiped his floury hands here’), Trigger Plants (`See, this is how to trigger the flower, just like you are a visiting, pollinating insect, isn’t that fun’(see Stylidium 22/11/12)) and Prickly Moses (below), a wattle flowering right now, its lemon rods covering the shrub. Why it’s named that I don’t know, although it is prickly, of course. So many weekends were spent in the Dandenong’s that when J and I bought our property here with its little patch of bush it felt like I was coming home. I use the parochial names with great affection and sentiment, and the many plants we didn’t know she identified for us; we were fortunate to have a pocket botanist (who was, truth be told, larger than life). So I already had Mum in mind.
Yesterday my sister visited, bringing a fragrant posy from Mum’s old garden, pale gold freesias with a few azure blue grape hyacinths; these were Mum’s favourite flowers, she said. (A bat squeak of an echo; a newly formed memory.) Why didn’t I know this? But I was glad to be told; glad to hear that this complex woman, often seeking respect over liking from people (it seemed to me), was at heart either a country woman or a poet; I am not sure which.
Mum’s father was a painter and colour is important to many of us. Moreover this freesia is particularly pleasing: short, upright, softly old gold with little grey; and oh so fragrant.
I am sentimental at times and could instantly resolve to plant these very bulbs in a sunny spot come autumn – but I won’t – it wouldn’t pass the committee, and quite right.
Freesias, like watsonias, anomatheca, oxalis, sparaxis, chasmanthe, monbretia (Crocosmia), and gladioli are from hot, dry southern Africa or nearby (agapanthus) and they love south-eastern Australia too well, flinging about their seeds, rhizomes and bulbils with unwanted generosity. As a conservationist, there are some plants that J cannot abide in our garden (rather a lot, it sometimes seems; foxgloves and columbines are especially missed); they would embarrass him if a colleague visited, too.
Living adjacent to unspoilt bush brings both joy and responsibility. I get that.