Gardens are made of memories – and it is surprising how little work it can take to disinter them. I’ve been cleaning up some of the wilder parts of my own garden, ahead of opening it early next year for the 25th anniversary of Open Gardens Australia. Why did I ever say yes? There is so much to do I cannot believe it.
Today I decided to deal with the fishbone fern.
I got it goodness knows how many years ago from a friend – can’t remember who – to plant around the base of my old quince tree, where absolutely nothing would grow. It looks great next to the gnarled trunk but has done rather too well.
And it has swallowed up two favourite plants.
First, a gorgeous ground-covering shrub, Ceratostigma willmottianum, whose leaves colour up beautifully in autumn when it has deep blue flowers at the tip of each branch. There’s not much that is fresh and new in the garden at this time of year, so I value it greatly. Luckily it is tough. It’s still doing OK but I can almost hear it saying ‘thank you’ as I rip out the fishbone fern. Where did it come from? I’m not sure, but it has been fun trying to remember.
Tommy came to Australia from England in the early 1960s. When he stepped back from being a school principal, he started writing – books and newspaper articles about gardens and plants, the landscape, and birds. He was the engine room behind rescuing some of Victoria’s deteriorating country botanic gardens. And he set up at a property in the Wombat State Forest, near Blackwood. The soil was poor and the water supply uncertain but there he made a wonderful garden that he called the Garden of St Erth. E-R-T-H. He mulched and mulched and then mulched some more, at a time when we didn’t always do that, and encouraged all kinds of rare plants to grow. (The garden is still there, now owned and opened to the public by Clive Blazey of Diggers Seeds).
The hydrangea that Tommy gave me – Hydrangea arborescens – is really great. It has lime green flowers around Christmas time and it, too, is tough as old boots, much more so than your average hydrangea. I planted a cutting elsewhere a few years back, which is thriving, and forgot about the original once it was swallowed by the fishbone fern. But today as I sadly yanked out what I thought was its corpse I was thrilled to find a healthy sucker, its stem dotted with fresh new buds. I must chop it back and move it somewhere else to give it a fair chance, because the fishbone fern will be back in no time.
And here’s another memory. Part of one of Jessie’s bones! Jessie was a 40kg black pointer cross-breed dog who demolished my garden for almost a decade, flattening the plants and digging enormous trenches to bury the bones she loved to gnaw. Maybe one day I will stop finding them. But like rocks in difficult soil, they just keep on swimming to the surface. Actually, it’s good to be able to think about Jess – as well as Tommy. I reckon that gardens are about people and memories as much as they are about plants.