Thursday, 29 September 2016

Impossible Plants

I have gotten myself in a pickle.
It seemed so simple - dig up a couple of seedlings for my nieces - `the one plant they wanted to remember Granny by' said my sister - the Forget-Me-Not. (It was autumn and I was digging up a couple of tiny plants in Mum's garden for my sister, just after Dad sold the place.) I potted up 4 little plants, they all grew and one has put out stems with pale blue flowers - flowers that produce numbers of seeds, sticky seeds that attach to clothing, move to other locations...the perfect weed, in other words.
(And J works in...conservation.)

So why did Mum grow these? She loved the haze of soft blue they'd confer around the bulbs and above the old bulb foliage right through spring, in the front half of her country garden, on the outskirts of Emerald in the Dandenong Ranges. She used to say that they were easy to pull out and they were...but there were always legions of seeds in the soil, ready to germinate, so they were...pesky if you didn't want them. And her neighbour didn't. They were separated, rural-style (happy-days!) by a rough fence of wire (chicken wire?) so the seeds spread madly, of course. When the neighbour moved, it's not too surprising that the new one erected a suburban-style paling fence which gave privacy and would - whether they knew it or not - stop progress of weed seeds considerably.
But with paling fences, neatness, and that relentless cutting down of gum trees and the like, why, oh why, do the Dandenong's continue to become ever more suburban?
(Warning! Soap Box! Gum trees just aren't neat - accept it! (But they're so often the beautiful manna gum with snow-white trunk above a rough base; grey gum with smoky-ghost trunk or, as we have, those silver-grey gums with mature foliage so silver-blue that they're just - sensational.) Stop raking!

Must we clear every bush, raze every tree, trim every grass - or - there's 2 options: accept our natural beauty and take precautions; or move (back) to town. I have read people proposing, ludicrously, that every gum tree in the hills should be razed! - and I say: where do the lyre birds go to live?

I admit I've got that frequently seen human gene to try to be neat - but I limit it to the house and the garden (to a point - while still trying to commit to Mirabel Osler's `Gentle Plea for Chaos' (1989), too. I want my garden to look closer to a meadow than a series of plant specimens). The bushland needs mess or where do the insects live? - those insects that birds need for their protein intake. OK, off the soapbox.)
Completely different - in a terrific way - were the gardens around a group of houses in Castlemaine I saw recently, designed by Sam Cox: gently native - only occasional large domed stones reaching out from the soil, local plants, and wattles all gold. What I admired most were the lack of paling fences despite the normal, suburban size of the properties; privacy was conferred by plantings of shrubs giving a delicate look, and a taller effect to boot. And I fell in love with Nodding Blue Lily (Stypandra glauca) (another rare, true blue)! I was also impressed with the lack of nature strips - Sam discussed this with the shire, and created a couple of gravel spaces for car parking, with the result being more garden. Grape vine pergolas, gravel areas for sitting, vegetable patches (and only one small patch of lawn) were common themes. But other than productive plants, native plants seemed to be de rigueur.
Forget-Me-Nots would probably not be welcome here.
Nor at my home.
What to do?
I asked my Dad, who is 92, and pretty darn clever: do I give these plants to my nieces (upsetting J) or other plants Mum loved (maybe hellebores)? `Both!' he says without hesitation.
But I can't do it.
I hide the little plants of Forget-Me-Nots so when I'm giving my sister the plants I dug up in Mum's garden and potted for her - Solomon's Seal, nerines in 3 or more colours, lemon wild iris (Dietes), black mondo grass, a columbine and a foxglove - I cravenly Forget-Me-Do (sorry) - and feel a bit guilty for approximately 12 hours - and then, miraculously, I'm let off the hook. I go to stay with my sister, give a little garden advice, and darn it, she has a Forget-Me-Not growing in one of her pots - that I haven't given her.
It may be weedy for her, but it will also give her that haze of porcelain-blue in spring. (From it she'll all-too-quickly get offspring for her daughters.)
And remind us of our mother's garden - all too well.
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 (

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