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.
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.
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.
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 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!