Somewhere, there is paradise, and it's a garden. The air is cool, clean and moist, perfumed with not just roses and boronias but the scent of new leaves, damp bark and chocolate soil. It is a place of peace, a refuge from all that is black or busy in the world.
All of us need it. Most of us can have it.
A paradise garden doesn't have to be big. It can be a patio. It can even be a room in your house, the one with the most window space, turned into a 2020 version of a Victorian conservatory. Add a 'green wall' of herbs and flowers, place rods across the windows to hang 'green curtains' of potted plants, or train climbing red-flowered beans up strings in a window box so the room is leaf-dappled, the light subtly moving to give you joy.
We humans are forest creatures, happiest with plants growing around us, and with the scents of growth, too. 'Seasonal depression' in winter is not just caused by lack of light, but the lack of summer scents, too.
This is a time when all of us, smoke-drenched, with images of fires flickering before our eyes - either real ones or from pages or TV - need the refuge of a garden
My garden is smoky, but nowhere near as smoky as the world beyond it. We have 10,000 leaves collecting smoke from the air around us (the possums ate the other 20,000, while the wallabies munched almost as many). Every dew or tiny rain shower makes each leaf moist, and able to collect more smoke, and other pollutants, too.
Most of our garden is dormant. I dug up a dahlia tuber yesterday, and it was fine and fat and healthy. The dahlias, sensible plants, have decided not to do anything at all this year, but to live on their hump, like camels. Other trees and vines have dropped leaves, but I know from other droughts they'll come back. And the agapanthus behind the bathroom actually put out two giant flowers today, and the almost leafless hydrangeas still have blooms.
Mostly, my garden gives hope. One day it will rain and there will be lush grass, lurking leeches, flowers and scents and leaves. Looking at old house sites in the bush on nearby ridges, where the houses were burnt in the 1939 fires and fires have gone through several times since, there are still plums, apples, pears, persimmons, daffodils, irises - untended, stubbornly surviving. A bit like humans, really.
What does a refuge garden need?
Peace, created by hedges, or drifts of shrubs and trees, or courtyard walls, or panes of glass with green curtains, or trellises. Humans are more tranquil when we can't hear or see strangers, and when they can't see us. Your garden needs curtains even more than your windows do.
Water. Just the sound of water relaxes, even if it is a recycling fountain on a wall or table. We have a pool that is kept fresh here for the wildlife, in the coolest, most sheltered part of the garden. We watch that pool for hours sometimes, the gentlest hours of our lives. The rufous fantail, a whipbird and a host of tiny wrens were bathing in the pool during breakfast. An echidna lumbered up while we had lunch. There are three wallabies drinking from it as I write this, sipping slowly, enjoying each mouthful, while keeping an eye out for Wild Whiskers, the stroppiest of the wombats who will her nose in the water soon. Wombats drink slowly and do not like to be disturbed, especially Wild Whiskers.
Every garden needs to put out water for the birds, as well as feed. Hang bowls from the eaves or branches, but do it now, for birds are dropping from the sky from thirst and starvation. Giving refuge to birds gives you extraordinary returns on your generosity, as once the birds know fresh water will be there for them more and more will be drawn to your garden for you to watch.
Silence. Courtyard walls and hedges can muffle background noise, but gardens are best at providing 'white noise' - the almost inaudible rustle of leaves around you is more immediate than traffic a few streets away.
A place to potter, or drift if you are the elegant type who can do drifting. I'm more of a moocher. A good mooch down the garden means a few native limes to pick, a flower to admire, and possibly even an hour impulsively spent cutting back the salvias.
You don't have to be a gardener to have a garden. Others can create a garden for you, from a professional to your mother-in-law or grandpa who will give cuttings from their garden, or if they no longer have one, will adore gloriously long garden centre to buy 'just what you need' and possibly far more.
All you need to know is how to hold a hose and how to find the perfect garden chair. Because paradise is a garden, and if it is created well, will be the perfect place to sit and simply be.
This week I am:
- Recycling even the water for my hot-water bottle. It goes from hot-water bottle to special hot-water bottle kettle and back again.
- Seeing the cumquat tree revive with the six buckets of water needed to clean the fridge. NB. When you evacuate remove all watermelon from the fridge. Whole ones can ferment and explode, and even slices will melt into pink sludge with white whiskers and the world's most penetrating smell. I think we may have invented a new bio weapon. But the cumquat has adored it all.
- Looking at large areas of bare ground that last summer were dahlias and ginger lilies and imagining next summer when they will shoot and bloom again. The Eucalyptus Angopheroides have just begun to bloom here, which they have only done before in the last year of several droughts. Possibly they only bloom at our place after four hot years of drought, and the years of heat are the trigger, not autumn rain to come. But the blossom is a sign of hope.
- Marvelling at the miracle of native desert limes that are fruiting even in this heat and dry. But then they are called 'desert' limes.
- Eating extremely tiny apricots, which are sweet with only the faintest tang of smoke.
- Hoping that every gardener who has spare water is potting cuttings and seeds to give to those who have lost their gardens, or even making lists of plants that are 'just what you need' to buy for them, once the skies finally turn grey with moisture and not smoke.