We’re moving. It’s something I want to do but I’ve gardened here for nearly 18 years and I’d be lying if I said it was going to be easy to walk away from so much thought, love and toil. Over the past five years of reading GardenDrum many of you have seen my garden develop – its painstakingly-built gabion walls; its reused concrete retaining walls; its grey, weathered deck; its Link Edge garden edging: and many of its best plants, particularly my beloved pentas. How can I tear myself away?
The reasons for the move are multi-faceted. Sydney’s overheated property market means that we hope we’ll get a good price and something to add to a retirement nest-egg. The five bedroom, three bathroom, tri-level home with swimming pool that was great for our young family is now way too big for the two of us and it feels selfish to hog it when another family could enjoy it as we once did.
But more than that, it’s about ‘putting your life off balance‘. It was a phrase I first heard many years ago when a design colleague told me she had sold her large home with her equally large and fabulous garden in Sydney’s north. When I asked where she was headed she said:
“I don’t know! But we’ve decided that if we stay here we will just grow old doing the same old things we’ve always done and we don’t want to do that. We’ve realised that we have to do something radical to put our lives off balance, to force ourselves to change.”
So we’re heading out of the city, to a much smaller home in a much smaller coastal town. And, in the first instance, to a ‘garden’ that barely exists – a few badly butchered trees, and garden beds featuring a weedy mess of ivy, asparagus fern and fishbone fern, and escaped wisteria. So not exactly like what I’m leaving here.
How do I bring myself to say goodbye to this wonderful city garden and leave it behind? And how long is it likely to last with its new owners, this eclectic garden filled with unusual plant treasures that most people wouldn’t differentiate from plants they could buy cheaply at a box store? Can I bear to imagine its destruction?
It’s extraordinary that since we’ve made the decision to leave, it’s as if the garden has decided:
‘Well, pooh to you then!’
Not one but THREE major plants have upped and died within a couple of months, leaving large holes to fill or disguise in a way that makes them look like they’re not really holes at all but ‘This space left deliberately blank‘.
First it was the huge Grevillea johnsonii behind the pool which screens views of the road beyond. Nothing to be done here.
Then it was one of the very old camellias on the side boundary, providing privacy between us and the neighbour. Other than trimming off the clusters of dead twigs, again no way of fixing this. Maybe the contractor who washed my neighbour’s adjacent paving used something diabolical in his cleaning solvents.
And then it was the Escallonia ‘Red Knight’, positioned in a very obvious sightline from the back door out on to the deck suddenly turning up its toes. An as-big-as-you-can-find Lomandra ‘Katie Belles’ will have to fill its shoes.
My plants are mostly drought hardy, although on these shallow clayey-sand water-repellent soils, ‘drought hardy’ is impossible to achieve as even succulents like crassula can succumb after a while. It’s 38º C here again today (over 100ºF) and pretty much everything is wilting, including many of my low-water-use soft-wooded perennial and sub-shrub stalwarts, like dahlias, pentas, cordyline and various salvias and even some of the aloes are feeling it. Only the bigger shrubs are coping reasonably well and, even on those, the newer growth is also wilting.
The Bureau of Meteorology statistics for January 2017 so far (1 to 24 Jan) succinctly tell the story – only 30.6mm of rain (mean January rainfall is 102.5mm) but a whopping 199.5mm of evaporation.
In other summer drought years I’ve let many of the plants wilt knowing that, as the weather cools down and the rains finally come, they’ll revive well enough, although they’ll look a bit manky for a few weeks. But with a house going on show for sale, manky is not an option so water, water, water it is. And I’m totally over it. And the garden’s tanks are already dry so it’s pay for water too. Fortunately the city’s main dam is still at 88.8% full so there’s no water restrictions to deal with right now.
The mid-summer timing of this garden preparation for sale is very difficult, but it’s also fortunate in other ways. It’s made me think more about how I want to spend my time, both in and out of the garden, and fussing over lots of treasured plants is not on the list.
Even though I’ve ‘made’ this garden in many ways, I think that it is a living, breathing and constantly developing eco-system with a life that’s quite separate and independent of me. Yes, I’ve put together the building blocks, but it’s not really mine, rather like the way I mothered two daughters but I certainly don’t own them and can’t claim that much of their best bits are due to me.
Similarly in my garden, nature constantly rewards my negligence or thwarts my best efforts. Plants die unexpectedly despite care and attention. Others defy extermination and eventually win begrudging admiration, if not love. I guide, but I can never control.
I am often reminded, when it’s time to let go of something, of these lines from the movie Chocolat.
But still the clever north wind was not satisfied. It spoke to Vianne of towns yet to be visited, friends in need yet to be discovered, battles yet to be fought…
[Vianne throws her mother’s ashes to the wind] Storyteller: …By someone else, next time.
There will be lots of joys and despairs from this garden in years to come. Or maybe it will become a sea of paving, artificial grass and rows of red cordylines, like the garden surrounding a brand new house up the road.
But it will be by someone else…next time.