The birds much prefer Blandfordia to bland Gungahlin
A baby wattle bird demands its morning feed. Photo: Sandy Scheltema
''Yum! Gosh this is good!'' rejoiced the red wattlebird between plungings of its beak and tongue into the flowers of the Christmas bells (Blandfordia grandiflora) in my garden in Lower Garran.
Wattle birds are honeyeaters, and honey connoisseurs too, and so when they exclaim and carry on about the honey of particular flowers you know they know what they're talking about.
''Delish! Heaven!'' the discerning fowl prattled, its beak disappearing again inside another of the showy red and yellow bell-shaped flowers.
''Ian, it's a treat to find this in Garran,'' he rejoiced. ''Normally one has to go all the way to the Australian National Botanic Gardens to find any Blandfordia, and then there are queues. Very few Canberra gardeners grow it. It's eccentric of you to be growing it, but then you've always been a little weird. But it's not native to this region you know.''
''Yes, I do know that,'' I said, trying to get a word in edgeways, for all the honeyeaters are chatterboxes.
''It's found wild in the Sydney Sandstone area and up into Queensland,'' he lectured.
''Early NSW colonists loved it because, as its name implies, it flowers at Christmas time when the bush isn't so floriferous. They came to think of it as a Christmassy thing and in the absence of the holly of home (which wasn't grown commercially in NSW until quite late in the 19th century) decorated their homes with it. And why not? The flowers are gorgeous with all that red and yellow, so reminiscent of the eyecatching strip of the Spanish national football team …''
And so on and on the chatterbox babbled, scarcely pausing for breath. I was only half listening to him until, suddenly, I found he was talking about the newsworthy stoush in Deakin (reported in Monday's paper) where a huge home has been erected in Gawler Crescent, knotting the knickers of neighbour NIMBYs who say homes like this one belong in lower-class Gungahlin and not in upper-class Deakin.
''What I notice about that house from its picture in the paper,'' my honey-guzzling companion gibbered ''is not so much how it looks (for I'm afraid wattlebirds have no expertise in aesthetics) as the fact that because it's so enormous it may leave no room on its block for a garden. For honey-eating birds this is becoming quite an issue in Canberra. More and more Canberra homes take up their whole blocks, and, for example, the Deakin NIMBYs are right when they say this is a Gungahlin look. I think I speak for all ACT honeyeaters when I say that Gungahlin is a kind of desert for us. When there are no gardens, or when there are only tiny and so-called ''easy-care'' gardens containing two or three ghastly variegated pittosporums …''
''Aren't they dreadful!'' I agreed.
''Please don't interrupt, Ian. As I was saying, when there is no garden or when a so-called 'garden' is just two or three horror shrubs, there's no honey there for honeyeaters to eat.
That for me is the true atrocity of the Gawler Crescent imbroglio. The Deakin NIMBYs may be snobs, but they're snobs with gardens, and …''
Letting him cackle on from his special, honey-coloured perspective I mused instead that the trend away from having homes blessed with gardens is alarming not so much because it reduces the amounts of honey on the shelves for our fauna as that it removes something (gardening and being in gardens) very lovely, civilising and sensitising from people's lives.
There is something addled about a society that thinks itself so busy it must have an ''easy care'' garden that requires no gardening, no tending, no cultivating. We're not meant to be so divorced from nature, from nature's pace, nature's moods, from conversations with native fowls.
You can tell from their unfortunate personalities, from their impatience and shallowness that people such as Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are not gardeners. Just as youth is wasted on the young, the garden at The Lodge is wasted on the sorts of people who become prime ministers.
It saddens me to think that I am probably only a gardener because of my great age (67), for mine seems to have been almost the last generation to have thought gardening an essential part of the civilised life. Now, in what was meant to be a garden city, we have lost our way in an artificial forest of accursed pittosporums.
Quite apart from the conversation that ensued, the sight of a wattlebird among my Blandfordia, carrying on a relationship that surely existed between their species for tens of millions of years before folk arrived on this continent, did my soul a power of good. The gardenless life, by contrast, is of no assistance to the soul.
''Yum!'' the wattlebird cackled again, waking me from my reverie.
''Did you know,'' the big-beaked historian rattled on, ''that the Canberra suburbs of Forrest and Griffith were once called Blandfordia? Why did they change that? Why would you name suburbs after mere statesmen when you can name them after the honey-bearing native plants of our beloved continent? Madness! Oh, yum!''