Who showed you the magic of gardens? Did someone encourage you to bury your nose in a rose and deeply inhale its fragrance, to taste droplets of nectar oozing from a spike of Grevillea flowers? To set the purple and red blossoms of a Fuchsia magellanica dancing like tiny ballerinas? To gently brush, with small fingertips, the furry sepals of an Iceland poppy bud about to burst?
For me, that person was my mother, Anne Adrienne. She set me on a path to discover that the garden was a place where I could find, and create, beauty and boundless vitality.
Anne was an artist, and her garden was one of her major works. She lived in the Hunter region all her life, and spent the last 20 years creating a simple yet marvellous garden at Tighes Hill. She was attuned to the seasons and her garden captured the best of each time of year. Here is a picture of my favourite corner of her garden, the rockery.
Anne’s rockery, Tighes Hill
Anne loved bright colours, unusual and weird forms- echiums, succulents, pompom amaranths, and the lovely old traditional plants- nasturtiums, marigolds, geraniums and hydrangeas.
Sadly, Anne never walked in my Mudgee garden when it was at its springtime best. We were probably both too busy gardening, at that time of year. Her last visit was in winter and she had hopes of returning, but illness prevented her from doing so. She died just as the warmth and light of spring had begun returning to our world.
I wish I could have shown Anne my cool climate plants in full bloom. Remarkably, they have survived, fairly well, the neglect occasioned by my frequent trips to Newcastle during Anne’s final months. Now they are really doing their job, lifting my heavy heart each morning, as I come to terms with a world without my mother.
Forsythia, its acid yellow flowers catching the rising sun
First light illuminates pretty white bells, Pandorea
White freesias are sublime
There’s a long history of gardening being used to assuage grief. “Walks in the garden” were used as treatment for patients by Egyptian physicians 5000 years ago; “time in the garden” was prescribed for “troubled” people by 14th Century Irish monks. One of the founding fathers of the United States and pioneer of horticultural therapy, Professor Dr Benjamin Rush, declared that “digging the soil has a curative effect on troubled souls”.
Loropetalum- it will flower for many months
Clivea- a splash of colour amid the shadows
I need horticultural therapy right now, and my garden needs it too. I believe Anne gave her all to see us out of winter. She died just 2 weeks into spring, and some of her last words were an injunction that we should “tend our gardens” and embrace the burgeoning new life which is on its way into our world.
So, fortunately, I have no choice but to get out into that disreputable and neglected garden of mine, and try to whip it into shape before spring, with its irresistible imperatives, gets too much of a head start. The force of life is taking hold of me whether I feel like it or not.
I’m particularly sad that Anne didn’t get to see my hellebores in flower. She tried but had no success in growing these cold climate plants. Their modest habit and variety of unusual colours gives them a beauty which appealed to Anne’s personal philosophy and artistic sensibilities. So for Anne, here are some of my hellebores- only a few years old but giving their best show yet, in 2017.
American Poet May Sartor (1912-1995) wrote, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a healer. Gardening is an instrument of grace.”