My grandmas knew a thing or ten about gardening. Not actually about planting, mowing or weeding, of course - Grandma left that side of household maintenance to 'the nice man who comes on Thursdays'. Jannie (Jean combined with Granny) delegated all such jobs to Grandad.
But Grandma knew there was no need to use poisons in the vast steep ramble of plant and sandstone shelves that was her Sydney garden. Pests on the leaves? Mix 1 cup of white flour with one cup of boiling water. Mix well with enough cold water until it becomes a liquid, sieve out the lumps and then spray. The pests, be they caterpillars or aphids or scale, will be glued to the leaves and suffocate. Preferably do this on a Wednesday if you have 'that nice man' arriving on Thursday so he can then hose off the mess. Then make a batch of scones. (Grandma followed any physical effort with a batch of scones).
Powdery mildew? One teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda mixed with four cups of milk, sprayed by the nice man under and on top of the leaves. Weeds in the paving? Moss in the damp bits? 'The nice man' used a garden spade to decapitate unwanted paving growth, scraping off all greenery by pushing the spade in front of them. Bryan has made a home-made version - a pole with a sharpish metal blade attached. Push, scrape, and weeds are gone. Any stubborn deep-rooted ones have a kettle of boiling water poured on them an hour before the scraping, which gives you just the right amount of time to make the scones, eat the scones and have a cup of tea.
The tea leaves were delivered to the camellias. Hair trimmings were scattered around all young seedlings - slugs and snails do not like sharp hair trimmings stuck to their tender bellies. I suspect Great-Grandma discovered this about the time her daughter began to 'bob' her hair in the 1920s.
Jannie adored camellias. I suspect they also loved her. I never saw Jannie with a spade in her hand, but she was most commonly found with a book, preferably poetry. She might also have a cloth to polish the silver, or gardening gloves.
The gloves were used when Jannie regularly pinched off the growing tips of her multitude of camellia bushes after every new flush of growth, thus making them grow bushy and shaggy, and covered with blooms each year instead of the twiggy growth that all too many neglected camellias achieve. Mulch was essential, of course, brought as decayed cow manure several times a year from 'that nice man at Church'.
Jannie's best camellia trick, however, was to buy her camellia multitude from a local specialist camellia nursery, so 'that nice lady' could tell her exactly what situation each camellia variety needed: sun, shade, dappled shade, or best of all, dappled shade but a gravel path so the blooms opened evenly and prolifically. I was also told emphatically not to plant camellias too deeply, and that they liked well-drained soil.
Grandma, on the other hand, solved all her garden drainage problems by having a garden that was on an almost 90-degree slope, except for a small ledge out the back for the washing line, and a larger sandstone ledge where I read and a black snake sunbaked, sometimes simultaneously. This meant that Grandma could grow her beloved daphne without it succumbing to root rot. I have never known daphne as glorious as grandma's. Her not quite jungle garden ensured that they had wind protection - vital for good daphne - as well as dappled shade all summer but plenty of more gentle sunlight in winter, when the leaves from the deciduous trees dropped all around them, to be raked up by 'the nice man who come on Thursdays' and turned into compost, well mixed with prunings so it didn't become cloggy with too many leaves. The daphne was then mulched with this, as well as the occasional pot of tea leaves. I think the 'nice man' may also have given then Epsom salts sometimes - about 20gm to a litre of water, to correct the yellow leaves caused by magnesium deficiency.
I don't think I ever saw a pot of poison or herbicide in my grandmothers' households. But they always had vases of flowers, and a profusion of blooms out the window - or a comfortable garden seat under a flowering arbor, a perfect spot to read a book - and a plentiful supply of reading matter, as well as advice, for their granddaughter.
This week I am:
- Planting more native limes.
- Realising I left planting the winter lettuces far too late. They will now most likely be 'mini greens', another word for 'lettuces that lack height and heart'.
- Watching an entirely green camellia suddenly turn into a mass of pink flowers twice as tall as I am, overnight.
- Still trying to work out which is the most spectacularly leafed autumn tree, extra points for fruit bearing. So far persimmons are leading the field.
- Tring not to visualise what all the kiwi fruit leaves will look like on the paving by the house when they finally drop. If I ever plant kiwis again they are going on the back fence.
- Admiring the many kinds of lilly pilly which have all put out a glory of pink leaves and deep red or magenta fruit.