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A good call

Julie Thomson

Julie Thomson

July 31, 2013

Like all the best procrastinators, my to-do list ever lengthens and the best incentive to pay it proper attention is mention VISITORS. The likelihood of people calling in to cast a reckoning look over the house and garden moves me faster than a dose of salts.

My pink phalaenopsis orchid

My pink phalaenopsis orchid

I go regularly to garden calendars with monthly chores listed and cut and clip them with good intentions to the wheelbarrow or potting bench, but, alas, I am a distracted rather than a dutiful gardener, so the best laid plans to systematically tick off the jobs go astray when I dream up a new rose bed to plant or start reorganising the courtyard colour.

But anticipating friends dropping by on the weekend swung me into action 24 hours beforehand and I amazed myself at how fast I could scrub mould from pavers, clean out a water fountain, spruce up the bird baths, trim a scruffy murraya hedge, thin out and replant a bed of iris and agapanthus, weed out a vegetable tank garden. And just for insurance, I had the smell of a freshly baked parmesan herb loaf wafting through the windows when they arrived.

My ruse, you see, so their noses might lead them unseeing past my scruffy driveway gerberas that are long overdue a dead heading and weed-pocked paths and other gardening shortcomings.

My old 'flowering' chair with tumbling sutera

My old ‘flowering’ chair with tumbling sutera

Because these visitors were real gardeners; organic, experienced, diligent, fastidious ones. They are not want to stop at the gate and gaze about, mouthing platitudes like ”lovely” and “gorgeous”. They head straight to the “problem area”, click their tongues, plunge their hands into the dirt, pulling and pushing and picking with a furrowed brow and a solicitous air. They are the kind that can tell you spontaneously to the exact ml how much sulphate, lime, phosphorous or other you give troubled specimens and have a wikipedia of successful germinations in their head they can reel off at a moment’s notice. Who can tell exactly which pest is making holes in any leaf you point to, what its life cycle is and what to do about it. Who colour-code their garden tools and store them in alphabetical order, religiously clean and sharpen –  they even polish them on the same day every week, and whose food scraps are always pared to regulation size for perfect decomposition. They also roll up their hoses every day! Would never get the kinky problems I curse at when the water sputters at the bends and blockages my sadly neglected ones develop.

My welcome wheelbarrow filled with pansies

My welcome wheelbarrow filled with pansies

As we walked the outside inspection, which I both love and fear when in the company of garden royalty, I made myself shed my insecurity, drop the excuses and apologies and just opened my heart and head to accept their freely and lovingly given advice and encouragement. I always take in information better face to face than any other means. It is the ”I do and I understand” principle.

I learnt I should be laying newspaper around the base of my potted Ceylonese spinach, so the dark seeds drop on to a surface that I can see to collect and save them for later germinations. (Assuming I start germinating, of course). My bush lemon tree doesn’t need too harsh a pruning punishment for not giving me more than a handful of fruit this year. Lemon trees have off years like all of us, so I will give it a small cutback and cut it some slack until next year. My variegated hibiscus is shooting base stock dark green leaves and to keep it true to its graft, I have to cut these right back. And the grub that is a perennial headache for hibiscus can be sorted with Mancozeb. My roses aren’t covering themselves in glory because they don’t get enough sun and my powderpuff plant (calliandra) is competing with a rogue lantana bush that a bird dropping spawned in its midst.

Pretty potted white alyssum

Pretty potted white alyssum

I also learnt Condy’s Crystals (potassium permanganate) are a strong oxidising agent and hence are garden magic.

Never having been able to grow comfrey in any volume, I have kept a small patch of it in a polysterene planter box. I have heard this healing herb is a fast-growing, abundant and rich source of composting material and has wide ranging permaculture uses. But try as I might, I have only been able to sustain a sparse few plants. And have also been tearing off the leaves for the compost, when they should be cut instead. Now, following new advice, I am going to plant out a bed full of rich compost material, transferring the plants cut back to ground level. And be patient.


My garden report wasn’t all “could do better”, though.

Justicia carnea

Justicia carnea

I was praised for my blooming violas, my pretty welcoming entrance wheelbarrow of pansies, my alyssum pots, long-lasting chrysanthemums, justicia, vigorous peas, cabbages and rocket, watercress and basil and my funny old cane chair-turned potplant for a tumbling sutera.

I was reminded that a garden doesn’t have to be spectacular or stunning and reevaluated the worth of the solid and reliable elements of mine that stand and deliver each season come what may. Like the jolly nasturtiums, the florid bougainvillea, the bromeliads, crucifix orchids, azaleas and lowly vinca.

Raindrops on my pink calliandra

Raindrops on my pink calliandra

And the star turn was a long-lasting pink phalaeonopsis orchid which even the herb loaf couldn’t top.

There’s an African proverb that says: Visitors’ footfalls are like medicine. They heal the sick.

Too right.

As they drove away, I felt all was well with me and my garden.


Funny isn’t it, the buying fetishes we develop in some subliminal Stalingrad of our psyche. A part of us believes we will be cut off from all supplies like the embargoed Russian wartime city and so, just in case, we stock up – and up and up – on some item we think we just cannot imagine being without. One friend gets all twitchy if she doesn’t buy toilet rolls every time she shops. Whole cupboards of her house are stacked with them. For another, it’s frozen peas, someone else keeps buying underpants, and another tinned tomatoes.

If the world’s markets close tomorrow, I will have cane mulch bales for half the country. Cannot stop buying – and spreading – them. Wonder what straw will break this camel’s back.

Nambour Church's expo parking sign

Nambour Church’s expo parking sign


The Queensland Sunshine Coast town of Nambour is nothing if not totally behind their annual garden expo, which draws thousands of visitors from all over the country for the three-day event. This month, the local Uniting Church even gave up signage space normally reserved for delivering scripture to passing motorists to offer parking options.

Maybe  it was a clever way to pass the plate around.



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Casa Mariposa
10 years ago

I’m glad your visitors weren’t singularly critical of your garden and also saw its beauty. No one likes to feel as if they’re being inspected. Color coded and alphabetized garden tools? I dump mine in a variety of handy spots. If they’re not in one spot, I just check another. I always find them eventually. Your garden pics are beautiful. I love the old chair filled with a lush planting. Very cool idea. 🙂

10 years ago

Imagine putting tools away in a shed? I would never find them! And rolling a house up every day! what’s that about? like you I go into my garden starting on the chores that need to be done(and quite happily I will add) but end up distracted by a new idea that has just come to me about rearranging a garden bed or building a new pathway…I love the creativity of gardening…and I appreciate my more organised friends. Ideally enjoyed your story!