Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A Flight of Fancy

Stand aside Lizzy Bennet, Heathcliff’s Cathy, and Jane Eyre.
I want be like Sookie Stackhouse of the True Blood series. No, I don’t want to date a vampire, or have witches stay with me, but dang, to have a fairy great grandfather wish upon me a magical garden where the plants suddenly grow as if on steroids, flowers unexpectedly bloom prolifically and the tomatoes are heavy on the bushes. (And the lawn grows fast, but every blessing is mixed.) Sookie doesn’t enjoy the minutiae of gardening – and I’m with her there (weeding and mowing are mentioned) – but when weeding she uses an iron trowel and uses it in self defence against a fairy – who is susceptible to iron and lemon juice, of course. (`Did you really kill a fairy?’ ask her vampire friends admiringly.) OK, it’s only her garden I want, not all the adventures.
Sookie’s garden in Louisiana had been battling the climate (dry summers are implied); mine has battled soggy winters, bone-dry summers and my bete noir (apologies to any regular reader out there who may be tired of this topic), wandering wallabies. 
Now I feel a little like Sookie – but without dating a vampire, alas.

The garden has grown for nearly two seasons. It’s pretty exciting. Five months have passed with growth unimpeded by munching marsupials, now really respecting the garden fence. (Some rain during summer has been terrific too.) Is it too good to be true? If crunching critters don’t laughingly leap over the fence when the grass is certainly greener, during summer, then I think it is a success. After 20 years, I have my garden, and I can plant tulips (their favourite snack) with confidence. At last!

Some plants survived the depredation over the years with wire baskets or plastic prisons. Now it’s time to fling off the corsets and gussets and upturned hanging basket guards. They kept some roses and treasures alive – just – through the years when we had an old, large male wallaby here, who seemed very much at home. With his good memory, he’d return to graze on the same plants repeatedly. About 6 years ago – after his demise no doubt – a sweet little female moved in and we watched her raise a joey each year; each seemingly more bold than the last. But a turd by the front door mat (under the veranda)? That’s just bad manners.

Was it 3 years ago that J enclosed about a quarter of an acre with the wallaby-proof fence (leaving over 12 acres for wildlife) – that quickly became – the somewhat wallaby deterrent fence? We’ve slowly closed off all the gaps including adding 2 rings to our pretty purple gate. Seeing wallabies leap out through the gate was quite a sight.
Last spring saw the last of the incursions; I remember it well. Often when our resident female wallaby has a young joey, last year’s joey is still hanging around. (There’s Gen Y for you.)  J and I call the older one `teenager’ though I am sure a zoologist would be horrified by the nickname. Anyhow, on a sunny spring day in October, `teenager’ was hopping – or scrabbling - under the fence, back and forth, showing younger joey how it’s done. J (a true conservationist) was delighted; I saw red. I had a sore back but went out with a mattock and drove in the last of the required stakes...and it worked!
(J’s been ambivalent about the whole project while I’ve longed for my garden; so it’s a true joy to see the wallabies almost daily now, cropping grass near our gates on one side of the garden or the other, but always on the other side of the fence.)

As if fairy Niall had put a spell on it, immediately the garden started to grow and the most pleasure was, I think, from roses: a pink one near the kitchen window bloomed and bloomed (rich pink `Gertrude Jeckyll’ with her old rose fragrance); and from the living room, in time for a family lunch, was a show-stopping scene of yellow David Austin roses (including `Graham Thomas’, top) under-planted with several clumps of deep blue Siberian iris – such a great colour combination. (Pink roses in the pink-and-burgundy-rose garden were, of course, sporadic. But, oh boy, I am looking forward to seeing them all bloom at once this coming spring.) A few like `Jude the Obscure’ with divine fragrance continue here and there. I can envisage the delight my imaginary heroine feels when her great grandfather Niall `blesses’ her garden; it feels like it’s happened to me.
This autumn I shall rejoice by planting abundant tulips (which hungry herbivores really love to nibble): pink ones, white ones, black ones. Clumps of black tulips amongst the silver shrubs and perennials; pools of pure white along the front path; and in the pink and burgundy rose garden around the circular lawn: pink tulips in all hues from softest powder puff to hot cherry and everything in between – where I’ll see them from the house, even on those wet spring days, as the garden wakes up.
Autumn-time, planning a beautiful spring garden. Is there anything more pleasurable?

Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (www.jillweatherheadgardendesign.com.au)

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