No, this isn't metaphorical.
I've recently given 2 talks to garden clubs, both to people I'm pretty comfortable with (the first (on `Country Gardens' to my mum's old garden club); the second on `Anemone' (or Windflowers) to my own friendly club, the Alpine Garden Society), and on both occasions I came away with darn special plants that two lovely, dear men had grown and given me (or the group) as presents.
On Saturday night it was this sweet, dwarf Colchicum parlatoris (top), less than 3cm high, and adorable. A plant I don't want to lose in the hurly-burly of the garden - so it's perfect for one of my troughs. (And the group is making more troughs next month! Excellent!) A bulb (or corm, really) from Greece, so hopefully fairly tough and easy to keep.
Out of left field, the other plant (Creeping Monkey-Flower (Mimulus repens), above), from my friend F, was a total surprise (as I didn't know it was in cultivation) and a delight - rare (I think) and reminding me of a camping holiday with J in spring, 2009 through outback NSW. I wrote about it for the club journal (how labour is rewarded!):
` Outback NSW in early spring 2009:
Beyond the black stump in `Pring’ (if you believe Australia has 5 or 7 seasons); or, technically, `Back of Bourke’ in August and September, a season of its own – my favourite – when the garden holds its breath in anticipation of the glorious spring to come. We drove from Melbourne, via Mildura, to outback NSW with a tent, 2 collapsible chairs, many litres of water and a (borrowed) satellite phone. Who needs more? Oh, and binoculars because this was meant to be a trip to see Birds.
After much driving our car broke down just outside Tibooburra, within spitting distance of Sturt National Park in the north-west `Corner Country’ and we had just traversed 300 km of rough roads a third time, south, to have our car fixed in Broken Hill.
After a hefty dose of Art we progressed to the great outdoors. And great it was. We headed east and out past White Cliffs to Lake Peeri (sic; it had 3 spellings according to different maps). This place was blissful and our highlight, for John saw birds aplenty and I overdosed (pleasurably) on flowers. We stepped out of the car and saw gray trees amid a smear of aqua over a sea of purple. As we approached, the aqua resolved into Lake Peeri while the purple carpet was, amazingly, a huge field of flowering Creeping Monkey-Flower, Mimulus repens (see photos). We identified these flowers with the assistance of Joanne, a local Parks officer who told us of the lake’s filling 18 months before, and the flowers were appearing as usual as the lake receded. With perhaps 2 square kilometres of flowers at more than 1 bloom per square cm, we were seeing over twenty thousand million flowers of mauve, yellow and white. (Appropriately, the lake had started to fill on 14th February, 2008; how serendipitous!) After lunch in the shade, disturbed only by a mildly curious emu, I read a novel for 2 hours while John enjoyed the birds: pelicans, corellas and various water birds. A possible sighting of Pink-eared ducks. True bliss.
Then we slowly meandered southwards, relishing the red soil through most of this area of mallee but not liking so much the small patches of gray: dusty gray soil, gray plants and gray buildings. We wandered through Paroo-Darling National Park, Lake Menindee and Mungo National Park...in all we saw at least 5 different sheets of wildflowers. In Paroo-Darling we found white paper daisies (possibly Rhodanthe, but hard to key out) with occasional starry blue, tall Whalenbergias. Rather Goodenia-like were yellow Velleias (new to me), white strawflowers (possibly Chrysocephalum) and lastly, as we approached Victoria, bright pink Pigface (Disphyma) which contrasted gloriously with the surrounding dull gray low-growing shrublets.
I was also excited to see Sturt’s Desert Pea (Swainsonia formosa) and another highlight was the sculptures in the Broken Hill and Living Desert Sanctuary, but best of all were the many birds, animals and sleepy lizards. And the flowers were nice.'
Sheets of wildflowers are a glorious sight in the wild; no wonder people replicate meadows and scatter seeds. The randomness has its charm and beauty; the simple colours give great effects.
How often, in my travels, have I thought, I'd love to grow that plant, achieve that effect, in my garden...but I thought I'd grown out of it, and learnt to appreciate nature, and `leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs' as they wisely say. Even taking a few seeds can seem irresponsible, sometimes (or often).
And who knew that this Mimulus could grow in Melbourne?
And that my friend F would buy it, watch it grow, and pot up a piece for me, just when I'd give a talk to our group?
And what a wonderful gift, to remind me of a very special holiday?
I ask him for advice immediately! - and he says the plant needs sun, and moisture - so I'll keep it in a pot for now, near the front door, watered frequently, and watch for flower buds.
And don't I envy those lucky people in the Alpine Garden Society (and other garden clubs) who can remember (it seems) every plant name there is?
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)