Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Productivity

I’ve always tried to make a garden productive, even if all I had was a balcony or  window box. It feels wrong if there’s nothing to pick and eat, like meeting a beautiful person with no soul.

I don’t like overly manicured gardens that look as if they’ve been clipped with nail scissors and groomed with tweezers. I’d rather something less structured. I like to be surprised by the odd cabbage tucked into a flowerbed or last year’s nasturtiums re-appearing under the roses. I like to see purple chives flourishing beside lavender, or a clump of wild garlic growing under a tree.

You can eat the leaves and the flowers of nasturtium

You can eat the leaves and the flowers of nasturtium

In Broken Hill I grew more fruit and veg than I ever thought possible, in fine sandy soil surrounded by desert. It didn’t always look pretty but boy was it productive. Here in Sydney I’m struggling, in spite of plentiful rainfall. High sandstone walls and houses crammed in on either side create too much shade, and I can feel my focus shifting inexorably from what the garden produces to what it looks like.

Yesterday I went to the local bank and found it had undergone a makeover. Glass partitions that once shielded tellers from the waiting customers had been ripped out and replaced with cushioned carpet and an open plan arrangement of comfortable chairs grouped around shiny ipads. One whole wall was covered in a black and white wallpaper photograph depicting the Dawn Fraser swimming pool; another was decorated with an artistic arrangement of undulating carpet tiles, or at least that’s what it looked like to me.

In all that sleek modernity there were only two people serving customers, and one of them was on the phone to a computing help desk, trying to work out why his system had gone down. He didn’t look up as I approached his central podium.

It was all form and no function, and it was presumably meant to make us feel better about the fact that the bank has dismissed half its staff and now expects us to do our own banking, even if we have taken the trouble to make a personal visit to the branch. I’m exaggerating of course, and I did eventually find a kind person who helped me fill out the paperwork I’d gone there to complete, but I came away feeling saddened that we seem to value beauty and technology more than people and personal service these days.

I came home and vowed to persist with the fruit and vegetables I want to grow. The potted strawberry has put out runners, the nasturtium has flowered (apparently you can eat the flowers and the leaves) and the rhubarb seems to have taken. Yes, the melons failed and the tomato plant rotted but the beetroot is still alive. It’s struggling, like all of us do sometimes, so I’ll pick it before it goes to seed and I’ll stop worrying about the carpet of moss creeping along the brick walls. I’ll concentrate instead on the citrus trees, whose twisted leaves have already been attacked by scale and leaf miner. That won’t stop them bearing fruit next year. In a moment of madness (or inspiration) I tucked a potted fig tree down the skinny side of the house. Espaliered along the top of the wall it might just find enough sun to survive.

The beetroot hasn't grown much so I'll pick it while it's still young

The beetroot hasn’t grown much so I’ll pick it while it’s still young

I love plants and flowers but a garden with nothing edible in it lacks substance.

Give me form and function any day.

12 comments on “Productivity

  1. Mala Burt
    March 20, 2014

    At times gardening, like aging, is not for the faint of heart. We’ve had such a cold winter (for the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States) and now so much rain, I don’t know when I’ll be able to get out to my garden beds. The raised beds, under row covers, still have some greens, but I fear some of my perennials will not have survived the cold. I’m waiting to see if there will be any blooms on the camellia.

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  2. debhuntinbrokenhill
    March 20, 2014

    I feel for you Mala, I was so disappointed when rain spoilt the entire grape harvest one year. The camellia bushes planted at the front by the previous owners of this house (and I thank them continuously for their foresight!) have hundreds of buds on them. I’m hoping they will open within the next few weeks. I’ll post a photo for you if they do!

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  3. Wendy Moore
    March 21, 2014

    Deb ( and Mala!) your comments resonate. Here I am in a country where it seems every “garden” is a profusion of the edible. A gardener’s issue here is goats and chickens eating the few pots of flowers. Each morning I lookout see what I thought was random neighbours “weeding” the corn but was in fact harvesting the “bhesu saag” which grows wild between the stalks. Deb, I love reading about your garden. Hang in there babe. Imagine that fig! Hugs and Namaste from me and all the ladies here!

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  4. debhuntinbrokenhill
    March 21, 2014

    Namaste to you Wendy and to all of the beautiful ladies at Samunnat. I well remember those productive fields of corn and the sight of people ‘weeding’ which now makes much more sense to me thanks to your explanation. Hope the harvest is a rich one and hugs to all of you there x

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  5. Adele Hughes
    March 21, 2014

    Still waiting on rain here in southern Queensland, so no chance of a veggie patch just yet! The rosemary, bless it’s tough old heart, is the only productive thing about – luckily it goes well with beef!!

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  6. carricklass
    March 21, 2014

    Love the word espaliered… Really enjoy your blogs.

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    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      March 21, 2014

      Me too, I wonder what makes some words more satisfying than others? And thank you for the comment on the blog, much appreciated!

      Like

  7. candidkay
    March 21, 2014

    You’re inspiring me to get out there and play in the dirt:).

    Like

  8. Ben @ Turf Growers
    March 21, 2014

    Here in the north of England we’ve had quite a nice winter (the south was flooded horribly), and now it’s leading into quite a beautiful summer. I’m very much looking to getting back out there in the muck and growing veg, it’s such a shame that you’re struggling to produce it still

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    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      March 21, 2014

      England deserves a great summer after all that flooding over winter, hope it’s a long and productive one for you. And we would SO love to be able to lay turf at the back of the house. Sadly there’s not enough sun (or space!)

      Like

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This entry was posted on March 20, 2014 by and tagged , , , , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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