Story telling from Australia
Maybe I was expecting too much but I’ve been a tad disappointed in the lemon, lime and grapefruit trees I planted almost two years ago. The latter two probably hate the fierce wind that funnels down the narrow side of the house and curl grubs no doubt explain their listless growth, but the lemon seems perfectly at home in the sheltered spot in front of my studio, so why the paucity of fruit?
Kate Llewellyn, in her marvellous book Fig at the Gate, suggested being mean to a blood orange that wouldn’t fruit by tightly wrapping wire around several branches and removing the mulch, suggesting to the poor tree that it was under threat. It responded by flowering in profusion. I tried the same with the lemon tree a few weeks ago and, lo and behold, buds and blossom have broken out on the branch I wrapped.
Was it a coincidence? Was it just that the time was right? Maybe that old adage holds true: sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.
Winter is full of seemingly cruel jobs, from pruning the clematis and plum tree, cutting the hydrangea almost down to the ground and slashing the woody hibiscus, but however hard it might seem at the time, you know that good will come of it.
Gardening jobs were put on hold yesterday when I gave another talk at a retirement village an hour north of Sydney.
Retirement villages aren’t what they used to be, that’s for sure. Glenhaven Retirement Village has over 300 people living in private villas with soaring cathedral ceilings; the grounds are immaculate, the bush setting beautiful and the sense of community tangible.
Joy and Glynnis have organised 20+ events so far this year, from visiting concert pianists to author talks like mine, but if events aren’t your thing there’s a swimming pool, tennis courts, bowling green, library, snooker room, theatre, bridge club, choir, book club…and a veggie patch. Wandering around the main restaurant, looking across that beautiful bush setting, I got the sense I could have been on a cruise ship.
What I loved about the place – quite apart from the incredible facilities – was the fact that Joy and Glynnis (and no doubt others like them) weren’t sitting around waiting for someone to tell them what to do, they’d taken charge and they were having fun. Friday night takeaways, when the boys went off to get the tucker while the girls opened several bottles of wine, were one example.
It was a far cry from the dispiriting homes I remember decades ago visiting elderly relatives in England. Nothing much happened between breakfast and lunch then nothing much happened again between lunch and dinner. Residents slumped in armchairs had a palpable sense of waiting to die.
Clearly Glenhaven is one of the best but I’ve spoken at other retirement homes with a similarly upbeat atmosphere, and it was tempting to put our names down. Waiting lists are long.
Glynnis and Peter showed me the vegetable garden after the talk. At about 20 metres long by 10 metres wide it was hugely productive, with borders of cabbages and peas and raised beds to make gardening easier. I spotted beetroot, rhubarb, carrots, parsnips and fruit trees at either end. They pick produce when it’s still small – many residents are single so why have a full size cabbage – and all they ask in return is a gold coin donation.
I chatted to Joy and Glynnis after the talk and they are clearly having a ball in that retirement village, but there are some who find it hard at first. Is it because they left it too long to move? Did they hold out, hoping it would never happen, and when push came to shove and they were forced to move from a rambling two-storey house and vast acreage they could no longer maintain, did they react badly?
It seems those who moved early, who embraced the change and gladly relinquished the chores that bound them, found a new freedom in their liberated lifestyle.
Some plants like to stay where they are until their growth is done, never needing a prune or trim; I suspect my lemon eureka is one. Some benefit from a radical cut, like the hibiscus, and some can flourish when moved to a new position. Maybe that’s what I’ll do with the grapefruit, when the time is right.
And when the time is right to move, wherever we move to, I hope we’ll be willing to embrace the change. Maybe we’ll end up living somewhere like Glenhaven one day?
If we do, and if there are people like Glynnis and Joy – and Kerry and Peter – leading the charge, I reckon we’ll be very fortunate.