Monday, November 9, 2009

Pottering in the Garden with Elisabeth Rose

When my grandmother moved into this house in about 1965 it had an absolutely perfect cottage garden. The man who established it was the type who crawled around with nail scissors trimming the grass and glaring at leaves and flowers which dared to dangle out of line.

Grandma couldn’t maintain that standard but I remember as a teenager coming to mow the lawn for her with a hand mower. The emerald green swathe was so smooth and even that pushing the mower over the thick springy surface was easy. Hand mowers give a much smoother, less violent cut in case you didn’t know.

Grandma died in 1970 and I moved into the house in 1971. For the year the house was rented the garden suffered great indignities. The tenants parked their cars on the front lawn which wore it away in no time. After they left I lived there with student friends and we did our best to keep things alive in the garden and re grow the front lawn. Someone had a Belgian boyfriend who threw up his hands in horror when he saw the unpruned roses so took it upon himself to do that for us.

The shrubs and spruce type trees the original owner planted back in the sixties have grown into monsters which continually encroach on the power lines along the back fence. His plan was to plant quick growing trees to create shade and privacy then remove them when other slower growers had gained height. The biggest mistake he made was planting bamboo along one fence. What an absolute nightmare! Bamboo is the most beautiful screen but the most invasive plant known to man. We spent years trying to keep it under control with our back neighbour complaining periodically about bamboo shoots popping up in her back lawn. In the end we hired a man to come and cut it out. It took him and his son a whole day sawing each cane off and pouring poison into the stems. After a few years the rotted roots could be dug out. Another horrible job.

Now my husband and I have fits of gardening activity. Permanent water restrictions mean no-one has a beautiful green lawn anymore unless they use tank or recycled house water. People are turning to hardy native plants like grevillea, kangaroo paw and bottle brush and using tanbark or woodchips to retain moisture and minimise grass cover. We’ve wood-chipped birch trees lost in the drought and spread that over the front half of that long gone perfect lawn of the sixties. We’ve planted native shrubs and grasses as groundcover.

Yesterday I attacked the two ornamental box bushes with hedge clippers so visitors can walk unhindered to our front door. Every time I do that job I have a fleeting urge to take up topiary and sculpt a fancy shape but they’re still square (ish). We’ve planted cucumbers, tomatoes, chilli, garlic, chives, leeks and parsley in a little bit of reclaimed bamboo land in the sunniest back corner and my husband goes out and gives them little pep talks each morning as he waters. We’ve erected a possum proof fence too because the first year we planted out our brave little parsley and herb patch the rotten possums (who live in our unused chimney) ate the lot overnight. Except the basil, they left that. Now the biggest threat is the ball from next door flying over the fence and squashing something.

Our back garden is still reminiscent of that original garden with graceful curving lines, a few surviving roses and most of the shrubs, and of course those whopping great trees on the back fence. The grass there is beautifully green at the moment thanks to recent spring rain but is showing signs of drying out now the weather is warming up. We’re not allowed to do anything other than hand water in the early morning or evening so unless we get more rain soon the green will be short-lived. But because of the extra earlier rain the orchid I inherited from a dear elderly neighbour flowered for the first time in years. The lilac has just finished a wonderful show, the azaleas are out, roses are just starting and my new season petunias look very bright and cheerful.

Although we’re spasmodic gardeners we have a great sense of achievement when we spend a few hours tidying and planting, and we’re really looking forward to our first tomatoes. There are four little green blobs there already.

The heroine of my current work in progress is a gardener. Are you a gardener?


Sandy Cody said...

How refreshing to read about your spring gardening activities at a time when my own garden and yard are beginning to look like the bleak midwinter. It's nice to remember that it's always fair weather somewhere.

Heather said...

Our garden is now under a foot of snow, where it shall remain until around the beginning of May. I love grass, flowers, roses etc I can take or leave but a nice lawn always makes me smile.
Sadly ours is a mess and the stuff growing on it can barey be considered grass. Thank God for all that snow ;)

Carol Hutchens said...

Loved the description of your grandmother's year...sad you can't maintain today.

Gardens are part of my mother never stopped until she'd canned 100 qts. of green beans. Today, deer roam freely and snack on the garden, so its become less dependable.

Good luck with the new book.

Elisabeth Rose said...

Heather, no wonder your garden is a mess if it's covered in snow for months. It must be so hard to get it going again each year. We rarely have snow and it only lasts a few hours on the ground if that. Heavy frosts though at times.

Sandy, ours looks bleak in winter too but thanks to that original, keen gardener we have evergreens and deciduous planted for shade at the right times of the year so we always have some green somewhere.

Carole--100 qts of beans!! Are you still eating them? How nice to have deer wandering about. Or are they a pest?

Beate Boeker said...

Loved that post, Lis! I have planted five hundred spring flower bulbs this autumn and now can't wait for spring. We moved into this house last year and found that we have one apple tree, one pear tree, one plum tree, plus some raspberries . . . I so enjoy them.

Jane Myers Perrine said...

Lis, you have no idea how much I admire you. Although I've attempted to plant gardens, I have a black thumb. I kill everything I attempt to nurture and finally quit after a deer took a bite out of the only tomato that had escaped my curse.

I really love to hear about your life in Australia.

Elisabeth Rose said...

Jane, I'm sorry but I had to laugh at the deer and the tomato line. I'm not really to be admired as a gardener I assure you. My Dad is though. He can grow anything!