Gardening years can disappear in the blink of an eye; memories of a special flower or plant can flood the senses unexpectedly and transport back in time.
It would have been my mother’s birthday yesterday – a botanist who gardened for, what, 60 years? (starting, as a bride, with crocus in a window box, or, really, her parents British garden during WWII as a teenager, with quite some responsibility); overall a good life.
My sister visited yesterday and admired my white belladonna lilies (or naked ladies, Amaryllis belladonna `Hathor’, see post 26th February) in the garden and in a spectacular vase (with a few pale pink ones). After wielding the spade and producing about 3 bulbs with flower heads attached I was suddenly transported years back. Passing them over to her, I said how these had come from a bulb farm in Gembrook originally, and that almost exactly 25 years ago I’d driven there and been thrilled to have just 2 bulbs dug up, flower heads perfectly shaking out their skirts. I’d given one to Mum for her birthday - and kept one.
I have dozens now and this year – after the hot summer? or the wet spring? – they are flowering prolifically all over the unwatered garden, pink ones nearly over, white still blooming with heavy heads of scented flowers, impressive when they bloom in a crispy-dried garden before almost any other plant stirs after the hot dry summer. (Like planting a tree, planting a bulb or 2 in the early years of a garden can be immensely rewarding a decade or score years later.) Hot pink varieties are hard to use in the garden but one or 2 amongst greenery (and their pale pink sisters) look pretty.
I have been picking belladonna lilies for the house for at least 2 weeks now but – despite the overpowering perfume of the white ones - without thinking about my mother. Then a visceral response occurred without warning; a powerful reaction to handling a simple bulb-with-flower head. Gardens can be filled with memories which add another layer of meaning and joy; an intimate layer for the gardener, unseen to others’ eyes.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, (www.jillweatherhead.com.au)