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To couch, or not to couch….

Julie Thomson

Julie Thomson

January 15, 2013

I HAVE a cup that reminds me to smile and be thankful every day. It has a quote from philosopher Cicero across it, saying: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need ”. It’s true. I do have everything. I have a beautiful space to walk and play in and books in abundance to enjoy, re read and share. But therein lies the rub. The two are in conflict.

cicero-cupMy love of reading, when I am really indulging it, keeps me out of the garden. Don’t give the plants a thought. Cannot seem to split my day between the two. It’s all or nothing.

I have barely stepped outside lately because I am lost in Tudor England, following the fortunes  and misfortunes of King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell in Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies. The thought of putting aside how Cromwell brought the ill-fated Queen to trial to put my hands in the soil is as unthinkable as marrying six times. Before this, I devoured IBM and The Holocaust and then Voltaire’s Coconuts, followed by Marching Powder. Once it hits, the reading binge is like a drug fix. I can’t stop nor get enough. Like a smoker joining one cigarette to the next, I ”chain read” and suffer acute withdrawal symptoms. Nothing outside gets watered, tip pruned, tidied or  even glanced at.

The Christmas-New Year patch does it to me every time. No scent, sight or shrub can lure me from one couch – the one on the deck – to the (other) couch, that is, the lawn, while I’m absorbed with the new Christmas books.


Pink frangipani

And it is starting to show, oh dear. The recent hot summer winds have parched some beds, wilted plants, shrivelled the potted plumbago, blown leaves all over the paths and pool, knocked over a papaw tree, withered the cabbages and browned the bromeliads. And all while my back was turned and attention caught between the pages of other people’s lives.


Ruby mandevilla in pot & white bleeding heart vine on pool fence

Now that I have surfaced for air and looked about the place, I am viewing it like a glass half empty/half full. I see so much in the garden that needs help and support, is not working and looks terminal thanks to my latest inattention. And it exasperates and flattens me.

Then I look again and see what is  blooming, flourishing and trying hard to please me, despite my neglect and indifference over the recent weeks and that cheers and lifts me.

It’s all in the mind.

But it takes some re charging and re focussing when you have interrupted the thread of activity – like any pastime – and some renewed zeal is called for to throw yourself back in again. And the energy-sapping heat of sub tropical summer doesn’t help. Lemon, lime and bitters on ice and a comfy sofa with Ian McEwan versus the bending, mulching and trimming (with blunt clippers) along the fenceline. Hmmm. Sort of  a no-brainer.


Heavenly scented frangipani

But I have ventured back to feel the luuuv, and counted a score of happy, colourful, healthy plants that I am thankful for; like the gorgeous scented pink and cream frangipanis,
that continue to perfume the morning air; the brazen and blowsy pink bleeding heart vine and its nearby white sister, twining around the pool fence and offering bundle after bundle of blooms for the vases. There is the sumptious ruby mandevilla trailing out of its pots and the demure white vinca holding up the shabby little patch near the water tank. Thank you.


Reliable pleaser bleeding heart vine

I discover that by moving the basil and mint about 20m closer to the house, they have shrugged off the grasshoppers that plagued them and grown plenty of rich green leaves unhindered – also in the lunch salad,  thank you.

The cape honeysuckle with its bright orange flowers pushes courageously on after a brutal trim by a storm earlier in the summer and my variegated hibiscus have shed their pest-borne disease and and are stretching and glowing with healthy red blooms. The tomatoes, shallots and cucumbers are doing well – just had them in our lunch salad – and some new lettuces are in train for picking weeks to come.


Bauhinia galpinii in full bloom

There’s a crop of brilliant blue and white agapanthus to cut for the table and the tangerine blossoms of the hardy driveway bauhinia galpini waving gloriously at me, seeming to say: “When you’re ready; no hurry. Would love a visit.”

Does this “slackening off” happen to other gardeners? Am I not a true practitioner, merely a distracted dilettante?

I slip on my gloves and boots, slap on the hat and all is well.
Happy 2013 in your garden.

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Catherine Stewart
10 years ago

Last week when those over 40 degree days hit, I raced around and gathered pots together inn the shade the night before and watered everything I could see, until the tanks were just about empty. Apart from that, I find that the summer heat often saps the will to garden, especially when I see something wilting. My instinct is to water, but then I think “should I?” If it can’t make it without supplementary watering, should I just let it go?

Julie Thomson
10 years ago

It is a dilemma, Catherine. One that comes around every January. If it’s not the heat, it’s the floods here in Queensland that challenge the most ardent and disciplined gardener. Even walking on the crackling dry grass ( would not call it lawn) is a dispiriting feeling. I too have been watering madly, pumping from our spring and fear the next power bill. Part of the price we pay for curbing nature to our likes.
I have kissed goodbye to several flowering plants who couldn’t cut the mustard this summer. Going was too tough for them – and me, alas.
But, how much more heartbreaking for those in the fires down south. Feeling for them.

Today is more temperate – 23 degrees – and I am in a different mindset altogether.

Carol Griesser
Carol Griesser
10 years ago

I have my favorite cup too, Julie. It says: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”
As an avid reader and gardener, the difference for me is in the timing: early in the morning and late in the evening for gardening. Any other time for reading.

Catherine Stewart
10 years ago
Reply to  Carol Griesser

My favourite cup is always the one with that day’s flat white coffee in it!

Arno King
Arno King
10 years ago

Hello Julie

the recent hot dry weather has really dampened my enthusiasm for the garden. The lawn is brown, plants are turning up their toes and everything looks so bedraggled. About the only thing I am doing is watering to try and keep things alive until it rains.

And like you, I am spending a lot more time reading in the heat of the day. Lets face it, those gardeners in cooler climates spend their winters by the fire reading, while we are working hard outside in the garden. We need some ‘down’ time as well, even if it is only for a few weeks.

I guess we have to take the good with the bad. We have a pretty good climate for gardening up here and generally a very mild climate with none of the extremes many gardeners have to face. Also, as we are closer to the equator and the diversity of plants we can grow is so much larger than in cooler climates.

I am trying to keep focussed and attend to watering the most ‘precious’ of plants. The rainy weather will return again and the hot weather will pass. It may be many years before we have hot weather like this again. Certainly this was record breaking.


Julie Thomson
10 years ago
Reply to  Arno King

Thanks for the comment, Arno. Yes, your feelings noted.
And today, doesn’t the rain make a difference to all spirits? Damp, cool, green, lush … words we have not applied to the garden for weeks and weeks, now creeping back into the lexicon. Ahhhh.
To celebrate, I pulled out a sad gardenia that just would not thrive in a pot at my door, and splashed out on a lustrous, tricolour jasmine specimen for the same pot. It is soaking up the rain and looks splendid.

10 years ago

I just love Bauhinia galpinii – I have tried on numerous occasions to grow it but have never lived anywhere where the winter cold didn’t kill it. It really is a beauty isn’t it? Great pictures too.

Julie Thomson
10 years ago

Yes, it is, Thanks Alison. Poor thing has had many a knock and branch snapped on the driveway from my errant reversing and yet continues to smile and bloom every year. I have shaped it like an arch over the pathway and let it drop and flow on the other side. Kind of lopsided like a jaunty hat angle, but it has character. They certainly like the heat – and the dry.

Adele Kellett
Adele Kellett
10 years ago

there is a solution to your dilemma. I’m exactly like you – if I read,nothing else gets done, and if I garden -ditto. Then I discovered audio books. A portable CD player in a bum-bag, secateurs in hand, and I’m in paradise. Want to try it? 🙂