Sunday, May 31, 2009

Around the world in 80 ugly gardens

While stomping around suburban Sydney the other week, I saw a fantastic front yard - a gorgeous old house, too - made up entirely of hundreds of poas on a slope. Brilliant. And you wouldn't really need to lift a finger, or maybe give it a haircut with a trimmer once a year.
I saw people growing fruit and vegetables in their front yards, some that overflowed out onto the nature strip, and others that were jungly and interesting and great places to explore if you were four years old.
There were a few lovingly tended squares of lawn with roses (nothing wrong with that) and needless to say several of the red cordyline and gravel factory styles.
But I did wonder why so many people have such godforsaken, ugly gardens.
I've never seen so many noseless garden gnomes in my life. Clearly Botany is also the concreting capital of Sydney, as so many front yards featured old, cracked paving and straight-jackets of cement around every plant.
It takes just as much effort to neglect a nice garden as it does a patch of buffalo grass border by a eight-inch strip of dirt in which a straggly oleander falls over a moth-eaten pelargonium or maybe some pathetic begonias (aka snail bait). Or nothing.
Why? Why? Why?
It might take a lot more work to maintain a veggie patch or renovate an old bush backyard, but it's a hell of a lot more fun.
And even if you don't want to do any work, plant a grevillea or a banksia or an olive tree, a correa or two, and a few tubs of erigeron or day lillies or well, anything. Mulch.
And then ignore them.
They'll still look better in five years time than what you have now.
Do it for passers-by, if not yourself and your kids.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Walking and watching

I've taken to walking. A lot. Well, it feels like a lot.
And what I realised when walking in Sydney last week, is that gardening helps you see the world differently - in more detail.
I sit on the train every morning on my way into the city. Instead of a blur of fences and houses and green bits, which is all I used to see, I notice when the silky oak is in bloom or that the bulbs come up later in the inner city than out in the eastern ranges. Or that the lovely mudbrick house just after Eltham station could do with a bit more sun on its veggie patch.
In Sydney, where I walked through normal suburban streets, I noticed how very lovely the grevilleas are at present, happy in the sandy soil near Botany Bay and with that slightly more even temperature. The coastal banksias were in bloom - mind you, they seem to be eternally in flower - and the gymea lilies were shooting. Even the rata hedge out the front of my family's house still had a few red flowers.
I lived in Sydney for quite a few years and I must admit that at this time of year, although I appreciated those couple of extra degrees in temperature, I did miss having a proper autumn. I love the crisp mornings, and the soft sunshine, all perfect for gardening; and of course the colours.
So this week, back in Melbourne, I've left the train at Jolimont and walked through the good old Fitzroy Gardens - one of my traditional kicking-up-leaves destinations. My apologies to the blokes with the leaf blowers who would rather keep autumn in check. It's just not possible for me to walk by a gutter full of oak leaves without having a flurry.
Then this morning, I walked in Currawong Forest Park, where I was perversely pleased to see that their stinging nettle infestation is way worse than mine.
Which reminds me, I must get out there.