“So, what did you enjoy most?” I asked my 12-year-old nephew as I drove him to the airport for his flight home. He’d been with us for 10 days on his own (which, I guess, is a long time for a little person), and hanging out with his horticultural uncle meant pretty much everything we did had at least something to do with plants. We camped at Wilson’s Promontory for a week of hiking, looking at plants, swimming, Frisbee and general relaxation. We had a trip to Ballarat to have a look about. We planted some things in the veggie patch at home and sowed seed, all of which he did with a thinly veiled boredom typical of a child on the cusp of adolescence. Throughout the trip I wanted to try and cultivate an interest in plants in him – to plant a seed, as it were – and here is a list of stuff that worked as well as stuff that didn’t.
Plants that move are awesome – The Prom
In the short walk from the car park at Whisky Bay down to the beach, there were several plants that caught my eye – a little hibbertia, flowering tea tree and a large stand of local fireweed lighting up the dune ecosystem. After pointing out several flowers and their ‘funny names’ to him (Sambucas gaudichaudiana prompting wry disbelief), I found a lone little trigger plant (Stylidium graminifolium) and crouched down with him for a closer look. As I told him about its unique pollination mechanism, I tickled one of the flowers with a small stick and when it triggered there was a flicker of genuine fascination. “That’s awesome,” he said, thoroughly impressed.
Steep hike, declining attention
At 558 meters above sea level, Mt Oberon isn’t going to win any contest for world’s tallest mountain, but as far as short walks go with show-stopping views, it’s up there. We spotted little milkmaids (Burhcardia sp.) and an unopened sun orchid (not impressed), but the blanket leaf bush (Bedfordia arborescens) and its hairy underside piqued his waning interest. “It’s called bedfordia because it’s soft, like a bed,” I offered. “Hmph…,” he responded. Of all the plants on the hike his favourite was a dead tree fern stump that someone had carved a face into, which he affectionately named Sassy the Sasquatch.
When we got to the top his tired face lit up at the view. Standing on the summit looking down to Tidal River below, I explained the geology of the area to him. Getting a kid to think in terms of geological epochs is a hard one, I’ll admit, but I think he got it. Wilson’s Prom used to form a land bridge to Tasmania when sea levels were lower – tick. The islands you can see far off coast are old hilltops and officially part of Tasmania – impressed tick. Mount Oberon, and all the mountains in the park, were formed deep underground as lava pushed it’s way towards the surface but cooled down before it could break through – lava-is-brilliant-tick. The peak we were on top of would have been deep underground millions of years ago, it’s been exposed after millennia of erosion from wind and rain – genuine-awe-tick.
Nurseries are ‘totes boring’
On our trip to Ballarat we stopped in at Lambley Nursery, which specialises in dry perennials and has one of the most impressive low-to-no irrigation displays this side of Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden. Agastache, phlomis, delphiniums and geraniums in full flight, and echinops hinting at even more impressive display to come, it was a sight to behold and certainly gets your credit card PIN finger in the mood for a workout. Despite my ‘oos’ and ‘ahs’ the nephew soon disappeared, only to be found on a bench near the car park half an hour later, ensconced on his phone surfing Facebook, “This is totes boring,” was all he said. For being such a philistine, both for the abuse of language and his lack of appreciation, I made sure all the spiky plants I’d bought rode in the back seat with him on our drive back to Melbourne.
Sowing seeds is fun
On his last afternoon we sowed some seeds for the vegetable garden. He loved all the different shapes and sizes of seed, from the cucurbits to the root crops, examining them all closely before planting them too deeply or not deeply enough – not that I minded. He clearly enjoyed getting his hands dirty. “Is this working in the garden?” he asked me with more than a hint of surprise, like he couldn’t imagine gardening of any kind being in the least bit enjoyable.
So, what did he enjoy most about his latest trip to Melbourne? I thought surely it would be camping in the wilderness, hiking up a mountain, seeing a trigger plant do its thing – I’d even settle for Sassy the Sasquatch. But no, after thinking about it for a moment and staring out the car window, his only response was, “The sausages.” “Pardon?” I asked, bewildered. “The sausages we had for dinner on my second night, they were pretty good,” he offered. I just laughed and told him that’s great. He would soon forget the sausages – he probably already has – but of all the seeds we sowed, the ones that will live with him forever were the ones you can’t touch or see, they’re the ones planted in his head. One day they might germinate, take root, and blossom into a full-blown gardener. Here’s hoping…
Until next time, happy gardening.