Kate WallMore flowers, please

I want to tell you something about a very ordinary little garden. At ground level it is mainly a mess of weeds, but standing tall and proud amongst these weeds is an abundance of flowers. Again, nothing particularly special. Nasturiums in winter, orange cosmos in summer, together with red geraniums, orange crucifix orchids, pale peach gladioli and the brilliant purple shock of tibouchina.

Vibrant flowers of orange cosmos

Vibrant flowers of orange cosmos

Sounds lovely when you roll off the names of flowers like that but to us seasoned gardeners, it is nothing special. And yet over the years of working in this garden (albeit my job here is just a bit of weeding here and there), I have come to realise that this garden is indeed very special.

It is owned by a lovely 87 year old lady, Jessie, who has long been too unwell to do very much at all. She planted the garden herself over 40 years ago, mostly from cuttings. She doesn’t believe in fertiliser or mulch, so doesn’t use either. She’s not overly bothered by weeds either but gets me to pull them out when they get too much. She recognises that when they are growing they shelter the soil and offer some protection to the nearby plants. She does not see them as compost once they are uprooted, so weeding leaves her garden rather bare. And yet those tough plants soldier on. But this is not what makes her garden special.

Simple flowers in bright colours in Jessie’s garden attract much attention from passers-by

Simple flowers in bright colours in Jessie’s garden attract much attention from passers-by

What does make this garden special is the flowers. However much of a mess it may be, it is always full of flowers, especially the orange cosmos. Even the mower man knows that if something has self seeded into the lawn, it is to be mown around so the flowers can be enjoyed, and not to mow at all if the clover is in flower. To us gardeners, it certainly is a mess – a very pretty and eye catching mess. Passers-by regularly stop to talk to Jessie, and everyone who comes in – meals on wheels, nurses, elderly support workers etc, all comment on the garden. It becomes a topic of conversation with complete strangers, and puts a smile on countless faces each day.

I have always grown flowers in my front garden. I believe that flowers make us all a little bit happier, and by growing them out front, anyone entering comes in smiling and happy. Working in Jessie’s garden has made me think that perhaps growing flowers in our front garden is not just for our own pleasure, but is very community minded as the pleasure those flowers give goes well beyond just ourselves and brings joy to many others who pass our fence, hopefully making our neighbourhood just a little bit happier.

My own front garden full of flowers, which are regularly picked by the neighbourhood children when they hand over the fence

My own front garden full of flowers, which are regularly picked by the neighbourhood children when they hand over the fence

But back to Jessie’s garden. A beautiful mess, without fertiliser but full of life. I even saw a lady cross the road with her children so she could show them the flowers. Jessie’s home and garden were very badly damaged in a hail storm in Brisbane just over a year ago. As the old house is asbestos, much of the top soil had to be removed during the repairs. Jessie’s biggest worry was what would be left of her garden. At first, not much, but over time the seeds which were still there germinated and the flowers started coming back.

Nowhere near as many as there had been so the garden currently looks rather bare, but enough to start seeding and to repopulate the garden. Passers-by still stop, but now new people also stop. Complete strangers comment on how pleased they are to see the flowers coming back.

This tree full of orchids stops many parents and children on their way to school each morning

This tree full of orchids stops many parents and children on their way to school each morning

This garden is by no means the best in the neighbourhood. It won’t feature in any magazines. But it makes a lot of people happy, just through the simple act of growing flowers. The very bold orange and purple colour scheme was a happy accident – they just happened to be the things that survived. It seems that the everyday approach to gardening, which can tend to be rather neat and sterile, has forgotten the simple joy in flowers, and this has left a gap in many people’s hearts, a gap that is being filled by an old lady’s love of flowers, however wild they might be.

I think the message to us all here is simple – the world needs more flowers!

Even council workers didn’t have the heart to poison this little patch of gomphrena growing in the pavement, and it adds so much life and colour to an otherwise very ordinary street.

Even council workers didn’t have the heart to poison this little patch of gomphrena growing in the pavement, and it adds so much life and colour to an otherwise very ordinary street.

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Kate Wall

About Kate Wall

Kate has gardened since she was a child. Gardening as a profession came almost by accident - after volunteering to rescue flooded gardens and working in over 100 gardens, she felt her trial by flood had directed her to her true calling, and she has gardened professionally ever since. Kate is primary care giver to approximately 20 gardens concurrently (including her own), in addition to consulting, garden makeovers and creating new gardens. She lives and works in Brisbane, Queensland, and is passionate about gardening to suit our sub-tropical climate.

13 thoughts on “More flowers, please

  1. SueThomson on said:

    I love these types of gardens, I could stand and just look in wonder for hours.

  2. I am also a flower fanatic and orange cosmos is one of my favourites. I’m always so delighted when the flowers on display in my front garden lure passers-by just a little way down the driveway to admire an aloe, or dahlia or salvia. People might like foliage, but it doesn’t do the same thing. Flowers are a community conversation starter.

  3. Kate Wall on said:

    I agree with you both wholeheartedly. This afternoon my neighbour commented that he likes seeing butterflies about. His garden is a lovely foliage and fern garden and he lamented that the butterfly host plants all seemed to be weeds. I told him to look into my garden as it is always full of butterflies, so it seems my flowers are also providing a source of butterflies for my neighbours to enjoy!

  4. Barbara on said:

    Now, where is this garden? I have been looking for the orange cosmos for ages!!! I would love some seeds, please :).

    • Kate Wall on said:

      Hi Barbara, this garden is in Brisbane. Jessie’s garden is still in recovery after being decimated during the rebuilding of her house after the 2014 hail storm so she does not have seeds to spare. Are you also in Brisbane? You may be able to find seed through your local garden club, or a local seed saver network such as operates from Mitchelton library. You could also try contacting a group such as SEQ’s Perennial Poppies who have a seed saver program and sometimes offer seeds for sale. http://www.perennialpoppies.org.au/

      • My orange cosmos came from a packet of Yates seed – Cosmos Bright Eyes. The colours range from a dark golden yellow to vibrant orange.

  5. lorraine blaney on said:

    Thanks for sharing Jessies beautiful robust garden. I have a 30 year old garden- an acre plus of left alone and barely tended trees, shrubs, fruiting and seeding herbs, huge seeding grasses and weeds , clambering vines over every shed and reseeding flowers of all colours. An alive noisy space of quails and rails, finches and wrens. Snakes and lizards and skinks. Bandicoots and the occasional echidna. Frogs in the pots and wild ducks on the dam. Would not win any prizes at the garden club, but the local wildlife love it. Always finding wee nests tucked in the dense undergrowth.

    • Kate Wall on said:

      Lorraine, your garden sounds magical, and an important bit of wildlife habitat. While you are getting pleasure from your garden, you know you are doing something right!

    • This sounds great Lorraine! I love a wild garden for this reason (and a few others), the more unkempt and untouched, the more habitat and wildlife. The critters don’t seem to have as much OCD as some other species.

  6. lorraine blaney on said:

    I have a 1.5m tall lemon flowering cosmos ( or cereopsis they used to be called) which readily reseeds when it feels like it. A nice pale lemon open flower that sways in the breeze. Kate, please give Barbara my email address and I can post her some seeds. Check The Compulsive Gardener at igarden.com.au . An excellent Sydney website with a plant and seed share component.

    • I will send your contact details on to Barbara but be aware that sending seed to WA has lots of special restrictions.

  7. Flowers always bring joy to the eye. Even the smallest garden feels like a little paradise if there are flowers. 🙂 The tree with the orchids is really amazing! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  8. Kate Wall on said:

    You are very welcome Cora! The owner of this tree has continued adding orchids and it looks better and better every day we go past (although mysteriously always black stockings! I will have to ask about that). I see lots of school kids stopping to look at this tree.

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