It's a strange thing, to gather up your mothers old gardening tools, and venerable watering cans, and an old wheel barrow, too good to throw out. Packing up the minutiae of gardening equipment after a gardener has hung up her galoshes and trowel.
A terrific contractor has kept the Emerald garden looking neat during Dad's guardianship and, in places, as lovely as Mum had it; you can picture her stepping out to admire her sweep of autumn-flowering cyclamen (C. hederifolium, below) at any moment.
But the house is sold and at last Dad has given us permission to dig up a bulb or two; even her granddaughters want a reminder of this garden (aptly, (weedy) forget-me-nots - to J's horror) made by a plantsman and botanist (and science graduate of Bristol University in the 1940's when women rarely attended university).
A while back I found some white dwarf gladioli (Gladiolus `The Bride') that I love; not rare, but a beauty, and with a little history. Mum planted this one before the house was built and it was admired by one of the older builders. She loved retelling the story of explaining that this plant he'd never seen before was `a gladiolus before the breeders improved them' and he said, wonderingly, `why did they ever bother?' (Amen.) Perhaps, like Mum and me, he preferred small flowers to large.
Do I take a cutting of pink `Cottage Rose' (as Mum called it), which reminded her of wild roses, rambling roses, from her English childhood years? (This rose grows gloriously through a crab-apple, flinging its arms about, laden with little single flowers in late spring; it's pictured in `Country Life Yarra Valley and Ranges' Magazine, Winter 2012.)
After offering to help dig up and pot up a few plants for a sister (her garden just now on hold), she and I spent a lovely hour in Mum's garden where the autumn bulbs had decided to put on one last hurrah; especially nerines in shades of red and pink, neon-lit and traffic signal-hot (and oh-so carefully keeping them separate and labelled). The new owner bought the house unseen; would he miss a few garden bulbs?; heck, no. (But in the interest of fairness, and the hope that he does like gardening, we left some nerines (and lots of other bulbs) behind, of course.)
I found something interesting when I got home. I had thought that I was so clever about colour but this sister, who creates ceramics, could discern `coral pink' (as she called it) from bright pink, and believe me, they were nearly identical...until I sat them next to the pinks in my raspberry and silver bed and found the luscious slightly `coral' swearing amongst my pinks (which matters to me) while the bright, fuchsia pink, with smaller, spidery flowers, which I realised was Nerine rosea, sits perfectly against the silver, complements the pink Dahlias and gives a shot of brightness in these shorter days.
A `fire garden' to the north end of my garden (the probable direction of impending bushfire) is something I've contemplated for years and to this end I'm multiplying my Dahlia `Bishop of Llandaff' (a non-staking dahlia - very important) with its handsome single scarlet flowers over burnt-black foliage which will be an asset here. Now I've come a step closer, by digging up several red nerines (planted for now by a colourful `kooky' bird from friends) and also black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus `Nigrescens'); I like the idea of grey foliage here too.
One plant I really want to dig up, which may prove difficult, is an old tree peony which Mum planted to sit perfectly just outside her sitting room window; as she sat in her comfortable chair she used to gaze out through the window at her P. suffruticosa ssp rockii when it was flowering in late spring; a perfect focal point. (When the new owner arrives, as winter approaches, will he chop down this leggy, woody looking plant? Likelihood - high. Will he recognise this special plant? Likelihood - very, very low.) I feel a strong impetus to `save' this treasure.
So I'll heave up this hefty ancient plant with a huge root ball and pop something in its place. And think carefully about where to plant this aristocrat that my mother loved so much.
And then say goodbye to Mum's final (and, I think, favourite) garden.
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)