Story telling from Australia
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.
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.
I love plants and flowers but a garden with nothing edible in it lacks substance.
Give me form and function any day.