When I was invited to the inaugural South Australian Crime and Garden Writers’ Festival at the Adelaide Botanic gardens, creatively titled ‘The Body in the Garden’, and I wondered how the two genre would blend. Crime scene tape and chalked outlines of fallen bodies are sprinkled around the Botanic Gardens in a clever marketing ploy.
An accomplished cast of writers has been assembled across a range of Australian gardening talents such as Adelaide locals Michael Keelan, Trevor Nottle to interstate identities Holly Kerr Forsyth, Trisha Dixon, Paul Bangay, Myles Baldwin, Fabian Capomolla, Richard Aitken and of course yours truly. The icing on the cake were overseas writers Charles (Chuck) Elliott and Toby Musgrave, one of the UK’s leading authorities on garden history and design as well as occasional TV presenter. Topics have varied from the humorous ‘Just Vegetating’ and ‘The Philosophy of Mud’ to the more philosophical ‘Horticultural Imperialism’ and ‘Dark Earth’.
It has been a fascinating experience to hear the varying inputs of writers about garden design, history and practice. The overwhelming feeling I am left with is a nation that is still grappling to find its own unique gardening style. Of course our European gardening heritage still looms large, and it is easy to see why when the national rose collection is blooming in spectacular abundance several hundred metres away.
In another corner of the gardens a small but burgeoning native garden features a far more subtle collection of Eremophila species and cultivars (Emu Bushes) that provide an interesting alternative. I am left wondering why there still needs to be a sharp dichotomy between ‘native’ and ‘exotic’ species. Can we not just look at all plants as part of a global gardening inheritance and blend them together in gardens to achieve a more sustainable Australian garden that still has room for the ‘wow’ factor of plants such as roses that have had thousands of years of genetic improvement.
But I digress, back to the festival, where the crime writers seem to have a magnetic grip on their audience as opposed to the a more leisurely interest in the gardening writers as evidenced by the questions at the end of each talk. A fascinating comparison. A show of hands in response to a murder writer’s question of the audience draws a tentative show of hands as to those who read both crime and garden books. I ponder the idea that readers of garden books are most likely practitioners of the subject, but does the same hold true for readers of crime novels? Switching on the television at the hotel room confirms the public’s fascination for evil doing and the plot thickens.
The Festival has been a fascinating event from start to finish and I am left pondering an idea for a book on ways to finish off your out of fashion garden plants. Or perhaps a psychological thriller on the mysterious demise of that majestic Moreton Bay Fig that is blocking a whole neighbourhood’s view of the Sydney Harbour….