It’s mid-November, which means that Sydney’s suburbs are once again covered with a haze of purple, as all the jacaranda trees reach their flowering peak. I know that Grafton has its wonderful Jacaranda Festival and that they grow well all up the eastern coast, but as you drive around Sydney now, you can see how well-loved this tree is here too.
For me, jacarandas have a special meaning, and it’s a sad one. My father was much loved. I think I could say he was adored by me, my sisters and my brother, so when he was taken suddenly ill and rushed to hospital, it was a desperate and devastating time for us all. Each day as I drove through Sydney’s northern suburbs to sit with him in hospital during those dreadful last days, the jacaranda trees were in full bloom. I can still see that vivid purple-blue, flowers fluttering down in the afternoon breeze, and the carpet of colour spread beneath every tree, although then, as now, the tears in my eyes blur it a little. How can a death 15 years ago still seem so fresh and raw at times?
Any plant can have associations of remembrance, like the symbolism of the brilliant red Flanders poppy for all those young men who were cut down in their prime on the muddy battlefields of western Europe. I put a silk one as a token next to my Great-Uncle Hubert’s name on the honour roll plaque each time I visit the War Memorial in Canberra. Or sometimes it’s fragrance that brings back memories. If I catch the scent old roses, I’m a child again, making myself ‘beautiful’ with an asphyxiating cloud of rose talcum powder. For my late mother, it was the cornflower, as she never forgot the thrill of seeing their intense blue blooms, growing wild in the meadows when she first visited England.
Although I do often laugh when I read in magazines that when making a garden for older people, it’s good to put in lots of fragrant plants as they will bring back memories of their youth. For a start, most people lose their sense of smell as they get older, and second, what plants are we going to use when all the baby boomers hit old age? Are there ones that smell like patchouli oil, leaded petrol exhaust, Charlie cologne, sparkling Bodega and maybe an ashtray with a couple of ‘funny’ cigarette butts in it?
But are there plants that make you remember?