A TALE FROM THE TOWN GARDEN
Photos from the camera belonging to Gay Klok
Peony Rose and pink Magnolia Stellata in the back ground
I have just been for a walk through the garden as I do many times a day, time permitting, to prod, pry, snip and sometimes even to exult. I live in an old cottage in Hobart which is surrounded by a beautiful garden. I am not a professional gardener and certainly not a professional writer. I am best described as someone who loves gardens, gardening and flowers. Both my husband and I spend a great percentage of our time working in the garden, discussing the garden, arguing about the garden, dreaming up plans for the garden and just caring for the garden.
Our land area is approximately three quarters of an acre on which sits a 1817 circa old brick Georgian cottage. When we purchased by auction, the house and garden were sitting there, quietly slumbering the years away. How my heart tightened when there were just the developer and myself left in the bidding and it seemed to be so rapidly approaching our final figure. A house and garden, lying in wait like Sleeping Beauty for the gentle touch, which would awaken them from their sleep. I knew they would not appreciate the roar of bulldozers that would bring them screaming into the 1970's.
How happy we felt when we were given the key to the front door [the door no-one uses ] and knew we owned a little bit of Tasmanian history. How contented we felt when we contemplated all the work that lay before us. An old bachelor had been living in the house, peacefully eking out his last years. I am sure he loved his garden but age and infirmity had caught up and he only had the strength left to attend to his vegetable patch. Now, suddenly the dormant house and garden had to accommodate six mid 20th Century people, who ranged in age from a 45-year-old down to a seven old. I hope you will enjoy reading the stories of how we quietly and peacefully reawakened our sleeping house and garden. We have made many mistakes for, as I said earlier, we are not specialists and certainly don't intend to become so but it is such a joy to both of us and it is this happiness I would like to share with you.
The circa 1817 cottage after a snow storm
Let me begin with a tender story for the garden is a romantic, dreamy place. Some years ago my eldest daughter was to be married in the first week of January. This was the first wedding to take place in our family. The whole ceremony was to be in our garden and the excitement was pitched at quite a high level. For six or seven years we had concentrated on the inside of the house, only using our spare time in cutting lawns and ridding the half acre garden of sticky weed and the insidious onion weed. A few plants had been transferred from our earlier garden for sentimental reasons, plants given to us on the birth of our children. These were all acid loving plants such as Azaleas, Camellias and Rhododendrons and so we had "heeled" them in quickly on taking possession of the garden and they were living a rather unhappy existence in the alkaline soil we discovered in the new garden.
The announcement of my daughter's engagement was just the incentive we needed to turn our thoughts to this garden and import some top soil and soften the plantings in the garden beds.
The morning after our future son-in-law formally asked for our daughter's hand in marriage, I visited a local nursery and purchased a Gardenia which I planted in a terra-cotta pot within the glass surrounds of our swimming pool. For eight months it grew strongly, formed buds and rapidly dropped these buds on a regular basis onto the sandstone surrounds of the swimming pool. All spring it practised this cruel deceit. I have since learned that this is a failing with Gardenia Florida and happens when temperatures are fluctuating and there is very little to be done about it.
Three weeks before the Big Day, I ran a concentrated campaign to make that cantankerous Gardenia do what it was put on God's earth to do. Every day I would go to the pool and say words to that ornery plant to this affect, "You have only twenty days left. Stop this nonsense. Please, if you cant't manage to keep your buds, just one flower." I heard son number one say to son number two, "She's actually talking to the things. The wedding is sending her quite dippy!" Just between us, I always talk to my plants and flowers, you know the kind of thing, pat them on the head and smugly say, "You're really doing quite well, aren't you?" or "Come on, buck up, we have given you all your heart can desire, you really should do better than that."
Let me get back on to the narrow and winding brick track. For three weeks I chided, cajoled and praised that Gardenia. I consider it is the perfect flower to use at a wedding time - the gentle gathering of the petals, the purity of the colour and the celestial, exotic perfume that reminds you of foreign places, all seems to symbolise the sweetness and latent naughtiness of the beautiful, blushing bride. For three weeks that plant flirted with me, buds swelled to the point of showing white amongst the green. But every morning I would find the green and white buds scattered on the sandstone floor.
With the persistence of an Australian terrier I kept on talking to that stubborn plant, begging it to please me and give me just one flower for the bridal bouquet. On the eve of the Wedding Day, I stood before the Gardenia and counted six perfect buds. Surely they appeared to be more open, more willing than any buds I had seen before? I debated with myself, "Shall I pick them here and now?" for they do brown so easily when touched by a human hand. With a final last warning, "Now is the time, D day has arrived," I returned to the house without Gardenia blooms.
At the crack of dawn next day I crept out of the still sleeping house, [was the bride still sleeping?] and walked down the old brick path to the swimming pool house. There, breathing out the most heavenly perfume, were six perfect blooms. Gently, I picked them, trying hard not to touch the petals and hurried back to the slumbering house. I sprinkled salt into the centre of the petals to prevent them bruising and arranged five of them in a large antique etched glass vase, with only the acid green of Hydrangea Paniculatata to give a little colour. Seven hours later they were taking pride of place on the bridal table, near the wedding cake and the most perfect bloom of all was arranged with the Iceberg roses in the bridal bouquet.
Iceberg roses, all grown from cuttings from my late Mother's garden
Although we had many blooms on the Gardenia bush since that lovely day, they have chosen to continue to drop onto the surrounding stone or, at the very best, to only grudgingly come out one by one. Perhaps they feel a surfeit of their heavy perfume is too much for you, except under very exceptional circumstances.
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