My dear friend Beryl* didn't know what penstemons were till I gave her some plants for her birthday. She isn't aware that asparagus spears can be purple, and her pruning technique for everything is "Wait till it's a jungle then hack it all back. Hard".
So how come her garden is lusher and more floriferous than mine? Answer: Because Beryl is a far better gardener than I will ever be.
Beryl sees limp yellowed plants for sale in the supermarket and buys them just to look after them, lavishing Seasol and sunlight and other good things. Every plant invariably recovers and bloom for months, if annuals, or forever (or decades at least) if perennial.
Beryl's backyard pear tree is about 10 metres high and was home to a vast termite nest when she moved in. There is now no termite nest. The pear tree has formed scar tissue around the damaged bits, it is in no danger of falling down, and it bears a glorious froth of blossom every spring. It is also lavish with its crop of pears, many of which are donated to the chooks next door and everyone else in the street, all of whom Beryl knows. Pears are supposed to have a pollinator. Beryl didn't know that. Nor does her tree. It bears pears anyway.
Beryl also keeps bees. "You'll need to feed them in winter," I warned her when she bought her hive. "There won't be enough blossom in a suburban winter to keep them going." (I used to have hives a few decades ago.) Beryl's bees have flourished every winter and given her magnificent harvests of honey all through summer. Of course she had enough blossom for the bees. Beryl's honey is wonderful.
Beryl waters her garden every hot day, and every third dry day. She feeds it weekly, weakly. She weeds, just a little, but every day. She buys mulch every time she goes to the hardware store, which is often.
Most importantly, Beryl obeys the rules. She reads the label when she buys a plant. If the label says "Needs full sun" or "plant in dappled shade", that is exactly what she does, and she is ruthless with the Pestoil if she sees scale. She even digs the holes for her plants the day they arrive home, and waters them in, and gives them a dose of seaweed foliar spray so they know they are welcome.
I still have half of last summer's purchases in a small wire cage to keep off Possum X and the wallabies. Actually the wallabies are a great excuse every time a plant vanishes or seems to shrink. It isn't my neglect, I tell myself. It's Rosie wallaby and her two joeys who have yet to leave home.
I grow about three times more vegetable garden than I can weed; leave the pest control to the birds, hoverflies and other predators, and rarely obey garden rules, which is how we now have crops of avocados, sapotes, Malabar limes, tamarillos and macadamias even though they aren't supposed to grow in this climate.
Failure to obey the label is also why I can't find the chamomile any more, and why the gardens on either side of our front fence are not the neatly matching beds of blooms and herbs I planned when we built the garden beds.
Is there a moral to this article? Yes. A garden will repay good care a thousand times, with lushness that will light up the street and possibly your neighbours' lives, so they may present you with eggs, or make extra scones or beetroot tagliatelle just for you, in gratitude for its beauty.
But if you neglect your garden - or semi neglect it, as I do - your garden will still be lovely, even productive of both flowers and veg.
Gardens are infinitely forgiving. The true secret of a lovely garden is to plant it. If you don't plant, they'll never grow.
My garden will never look like Beryl's. The wallabies ate my penstemons, unless the snails were the culprits. Beryl's penstemons already look stunning. My garden has grown despite my tending, not because of it. But this spring it's paradise, and fruit and flower rich in almost every season, and (mostly) all I did was plant it.
- Not her real name, though she and other friends will undoubtedly know who I'm talking about. PS: Beryl is a whizz with a chainsaw; can clean a chimney, service a car, extract honey and change the washers on the bathroom taps, sometimes doing all in the one day, which is not bad for 'eightyish'. She can even keep up with her granddaughters, except up extremely steep hills.
This week I am:
- Picking asparagus at last!
- Rejoicing that the horseradish plants survived the winter, so we can eat it with the monster zucchini we invariably find lurking under the leaves. Grate the zucchini finely, then mix it with a little thin cream and grated horseradish, which sounds revolting, but is not.
- Discovering that the gladioli that grew from a bunch of flowers I threw out, then transplanted from the vegie garden, have left behind baby gladioli, which need to be transplanted too. Sometime.
- Watching this season's first native limes double in size each night. One bush gives us about a quarter cupful of zingy fruit every frost-free day and into winter too. This means we are going to have a major surplus when the other five bushes I planted - some of them red fruited and one of them pink - begin to fruit.
- Not getting around to planting out the tomatoes, capsicum, cucumbers, corn, zucchini and melons in the heated pots indoors, which means that just like every other year the seeds will probably go straight into the garden, and crop maybe two weeks later than if I'd shown due diligence.
- Not planting anything except potatoes, because the soil stays colder than the air, and another frost is coming. But I must get around to planting out those spuds.