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I’m a bit slow of the mark but I just discovered the Organic Gardener’s website and some of my articles published there. Do take a look!

This one is about my favourite organic farm – Elgaar organic dairy farm in northern Tasmania..

http://www.organicgardener.com.au/articles/milk-veins

This one is about my favourite garden in Tasmania – the incredible magical Wychwood, also in northern Tasmania (it’s a beautiful place!) www.organicgardener.com.au/articles/wychwood-magic

This one is about the Agrarian Kitchen, my favourite cooking school in Tasmania (it’s in the south) www.organicgardener.com.au/articles/love-fields-and-food

Enjoy the tour of Tassie!

Enjoy the

Walking with Roses

Sorry….

I have ignored my blog and all of you who like Gardening with Helen while I was on retreat in India for two and a half years, but now I’m back. Those of you who have joined, I would love to hear why you like the site, so please post comments.

Roaming with the roses…

The first thing I did (after saying hullo to the weeds in my garden…) was walk the peaceful streets of Hobart with my camera, photographing and smelling the glory of roses that clamber over fences, smother doorways, peak through windows and reach out to greet and grab you with their beauty, thorns, fragrance and eternal charm.

Of course, roses have been photographed to death, so I tried to find new ways to bring out their beauty and personality. Here are a few of the roses I met, adorning homes, holding their faces to the sun and seducing their owners and passers by alike.

(next post I’ll tell you about my garden after two years, and of course I’ll need to tell you about plantish things to do with my time in India. Please prompt me with feedback, comments, contributions and nagging!)

 

Tree Liberation – Tales of the Mighty Brush Box 

 The brush box, Lophostemon confertus, is perhaps my favourite tree, not merely because of its beauty and strength, but because of the ways we got to know each other and the experiences we had together.

Our relationship began when I moved house at the age of 4 or 5. The tree at the front gate was easy to climb, its strong, smooth trunk curving over the sandstone wall at just the right height for clambering into. My sisters and I spent many important hours occupying its branches, our minds busy with games now forgotten. Christmas beetles, cicadas, bull ants and cupmoth caterpillars also inhabited that tree. These ‘hairy caterpillars’ are one of nature’s more bizarre creations, looking like a two-headed Chinese dragon in a colourful street festival. Their brightly patterned bodies with four bunches of orange stinging hairs at each end are a temptation to children, but a warning to wiser predators. ‘Don’t touch’ is the best invitation to a curious child, and so we were stung and became wary, but kept sharing the tree.

I don't have a pic of Brush Box just now, so here is the biggest tree of them all - the Great Banyan Tree, Botanical Gardens in Kolkata, India

There was another brush box, its trunk rising straight up from an old concrete slab that seemed to merge with the grey sandstone surrounds. We could not climb this tree, but its canopy was dense and its shade deep. It was always cool under there, for picnics, water fights, hand ball, bike riding, reading. Dad had a different relationship with these trees. They both grew up into the power lines that connected to the house.

Extension ladder in position, in his working bee overalls he would disappear into its dark greenery with various hand saws and pruners. Soon the branches came tumbling down, and our job was to drag them away. I had no idea then that this was a brush box. I had no idea then that it was planted under power lines all over Sydney and other Australian cities, where it was routinely mutilated by tree lopping teams. I had no idea then that it in its natural state it was a magnificent forest giant that yielded a superb smooth, pink timber which a few years later would spark controversy in the rainforests of NSW, spawning a debate and protest that ultimately led to World Heritage status for the rainforests of NSW.

“I WAS 16 WHEN I WENT TO MY FIRST LOGGING PROTEST. IT WAS AT TERANIA CREEK, A REMOTE END-OF-THE-ROAD LOCATION IN A LUSH SUBTROPICAL VALLEY IN NORTHERN NSW.”

I was 16 when I went to my first logging protest. It was at Terania Creek, a remote end-of-the-road location in a lush subtropical valley in northern NSW. I can’t remember how I ended up there, but suddenly I was camping in a paddock with a bunch of hippies. There were guitars and vegetarian food at a camp on the forest edge. The forest was rainforest, hung with vines and soft with the swaying elegance of Bangalow palms. Stands of brush box, the result of disturbance over a thousand years ago, led to a debate over what defined rainforest. The NSW Forestry Commission said rainforest did not contain hardwoods. The brush box is a hardwood, therefore this was not a rainforest and logging it should not be an issue. I stood on the freshly severed trunk of a tree that may have been 1,500 years old, surrounded by the devastation caused by its premature crash to earth, listening sadly to the chainsaws busy on another such tree of life. I knew then that the discussion about how to define a rainforest had little to do with reality, and that politics, whatever side you were on, was only a tool.

“ON MY RETURN TO THE CITY I MADE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THESE FOREST GIANTS AND THE CREW-CUT STREET TREES WHICH I HAD BARELY NOTICED BEFORE.”

On my return to the city I made the connection between these forest giants and the crew-cut street trees which I had barely noticed before. These 35m trees were planted under power lines because they recovered well from pruning. Logical at some level I suppose, like the argument for logging them.

Some years later, as a horticulture student I made a study of rainforest regeneration. As a practical component I collected and propagated the seed of rainforest plants. The brush box was one, and as my forest of seedlings sprouted in the shade house there was no question about whether or not it was a rainforest species. It was in that year that the Wran Labour Government halted the logging of rainforests in NSW, nominating them for World Heritage listing. Terania Creek was part of that nomination, along with the surviving brush boxes, whose gorgeous timber had sparked the direct action movement that doggedly followed the log trucks and chainsaws until at last they were gone.

You can easily visit Protestor Falls in the Nightcap National Park, which includes Terania Ck. The sounds are of rushing water, bird song and the breeze in the canopy. But when I stand there, I still hear the chainsaws and the defiant songs of the activists whose courage is remembered in the naming of the waterfall, and who drew inspiration from the helplessness of the brush box, strongest of trees.

I was born in Christchurch in an old wooden house opposite Hagley Park. Number 9 Bealey Ave to be exact. In a recent moment of oddness I saw a photo in the paper of a mansion in Bealey Ave being demolished after the earthquake. I have no idea of the fate of number 9 and hadn’t really thought about it until seeing that news item. My relatives in other parts of Chch have liveable but rather cracked houses with everything falling everywhere all the time and life in a weird state of shakyness. My cousin sent me a very cool, eerie You Tube of amazing teen boys skateboarding the broken landscape –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2bvozq-KK8

I wrote this bluebells story a good few years ago when I had a column in The Organic Gardener magazine. Then someone suggested I offer it to the Christchurch Press and they published it too. So it’s been around a little and is due for more recycling… Rosie in the picture is my niece.

Rosie in the Hagley Pk Bluebells, 1988ish

Bluebell Memories

In autumn 1964 a young doctor took his three small girls, a couple of trowels and some bluebell bulbs to the park across the road from their Christchurch home. He recalled the magic of the bluebell woods of England, where he had lived in early childhood and again as an adult.

On that day – let’s say it was a cool, bright day, the southern sun weakening as it dropped lower in the sky; let’s say it was a breezy day, blowing the leaves of autumn across the green grass in the ever-changing patterns of life; let’s say it was a happy day, when this family was bound close by its hope and freshness – on that day, the father and his daughters dug small holes in the turf, popped a bulb in each, pressed down the rich soil of the Canterbury Plains and crossed the road back home again.

Autumn miracle

I wonder how many times that winter they rugged up and crossed the road to play in the park, feeding the ducks on the River Avon, riding their tricycles along the path, tossing leaves off the bridge into the gentle waters, then running to the other side to watch their leaf-boat float downstream.

I remember doing those things as a child, and I was the youngest, only three, so it must have been often, and happy. But I don’t recall thinking about the bluebell bulbs lying still in the deep cold of a Christchurch winter.

Our mother is Irish and Dad had promised to bring her home every seven years. That year they made their first trip back. The children and grandparents had never met. We set off on an enormous ship, while the bluebells waited patiently for signs of spring. We crossed the equator, and King Neptune came on board, bearded and brandishing his trident. He climbed out of the sea up the side of the liner, and threw my eldest sister into the swimming pool. I missed out, because I couldn’t swim.

I don’t think we walked in bluebell woods that year, but the next trip was made in spring, and I remember a fairyland forest in Ireland, carpeted in blue.

In the summer of 1965 we moved to Sydney and the bluebell planting was forgotten. The bridge we rode our bikes across now took us to the beach. We dug in the yellow sand and spent summer encrusted with salt and zinc cream.

Me with family, Manly, 1960s

My parents planted bluebells in the warm, sandy seaside soil, but the clump was unimpressive, a delicate reminder of lands left and homes that were past. We kids collected Christmas beetles and cicada shells instead of flowers.

I have never been back to Hagley Park in the spring, but I know that every year the green grass is transformed into a rippling sea of blue. I recently had visitors from Christchurch.

“You know the bluebells in Hagley Park?” I asked mysteriously. They nodded yes, no doubt having never wondered whose mind had the vision and whose hand had disturbed the soil.

“My father planted them,” I said proudly. They looked at me in amazement, as if I had just revealed a truth of creation. “There should be a plaque,” I added thoughtfully. “There should be a plaque.”

Plaque or no plaque, each year the soft drifts of blue reflect the sky and herald the transformation that is spring. Children like us play in them, and like many of the best things in life, they are taken for granted and their origin is their secret.

I am thinking now of a park down the hill from where I live in Hobart. There are daffodils below the silver birches, but no bluebells….Perhaps next autumn when the sky grows cool and dull, I will take the children, and some trowels, and some bulbs and plant more than a plaque.

My new favourite gardener has a wild lily garden in the back blocks of Hobart. His name is Rod and he breeds and sells lilliums and narcissus. Rod calls himself a ‘naturist’ and that seems accurate. He’s a bit of a hermit but actually loves a good natter. I had to write to him snail mail to make contact, which was in fact so refreshing. He wrote back promptly, sending me multiple copies of his bi-annual newsletter, ‘The Trumpeter’ and naming a few dates in January that I could visit him.

So when I got back from India I phoned his sister (3 doors down from Rod) and we set a date. When I drove through the gate of ‘Glenbrook’ I forgot I was in Hobart. It was as if I had suddenly been teleported into a deep, forgotten valley in a remote part of Tasmania. Rod’s little cottage nestles against the bush of this flank of the Wellington range – which is owned by Rod’s family, who keep it so that the wildlife will have a home. The cottage is barely visible – “I’m trying to get the plants to take over,” says Rod.

His sister is there, and I’m served more than I can eat by way of little sandwiches, homemade cakes and cups of tea. Everything is delightful and kind and friendly and in spite of Rod’s reputation as one who shuns society, I could not have felt more welcome. They just want to hear about India, while I am itching to do my interview. But having said that, chatting about India is something I can do without much encouragement. A chook walked across the carpet as I helped myself to more cake while describing my dip in the Ganges at Varanasi, much to their impressed astonishment.

Now that I have whetted your appetite, I’m going to show you a picture and sign off, because I have to go and pick someone up to take them to the Wielangta forest, which any locals reading this will know is a worthy excuse.

To be continued…

Rod tenderly shows me his lilies.

The Bodhi Tree

I’m back from India again. Amidst the noise and drama of 1 billion + people, are  an infinity of sacred sites. The Bodhi Tree is one. This is the site of Buddha’s enlightenment and the current tree is a descendant of the original. It’s the centrepiece of the town of Bodh Gaya, a little place in the state of Bihar, which is renowned for deep poverty, corruption, banditry and general dodginess. I go to Bihar each year, in spite of these harsh judgments, and find amongst the darkness the most peaceful people in the world, yogis of vast wisdom. So, there’s more to Bihar than meets the eye.

The Bodhi Tree, Bodh Gaya, where Buddha attained enlightenment

The Bodhi tree – Ficus religiosa – healthy, with spreading, generous branches, the most worshipped tree in the world. I am into tree worship – after all, they make this Earth habitable. So my pilgrimage was to the tree, more than the temple or the philosophies of Buddha in which it is now embedded. He sat under a tree, resolving not to budge until he attained the answers to the problem of human suffering.  Those answers came, and his brilliance became the most gentle major religion of the world.

I paid my respects to the Bodhi Tree. And I wondered why Buddhists of the world build temples and place statues of the Buddha in Bodh Gaya but don’t plant trees everywhere. This sacred place was so dusty that people have to breathe through face masks. Ponds of disgusting, stagnant water had no trees around them. Beggars with bodies unbelievably deformed from polio crawled about in those dusty streets. There may be answers to human suffering in philosophy and meditation, but being a practical girl, I felt that some more trees and some sabin vaccine would certainly help.

I digress. May the tree live long and be an inspiration for earth friendliness, which relieves the suffering of all sentient beings.

I’ll tell you more soon about encounters with other miraculous plants in India. Photos coming.

And I must report on my visit to a wild lily garden in Hobart, inhabited by a rare one who calls himself a ‘naturist’ and has lived his values quietly for a long life.

Have had some wonderful blog posts all formed in my mind, but they have stayed there… It happens when I’m gardening. Beautiful words and thoughts form as I weed and plant and till the good old soil. What I need is to write it then and there, because by the time I finish in the garden, I don’t want to go on the computer. They don’t go together well for me. When I’m all doused in nature, the call of the keyboard grows faint and is easily ignored.  Oh well.

This spring is so full of growth – I have watched the cherry blossoms burst into intense pink glory, dissolve into a carpet of pink snow upon the path, and now rot into brown mush. Must be time someone swept I guess. Under the cherry blossom and extravagance of old bearded irises sings loud and bright, there were sweetest lily of the valley before, sending wafts of perfume everywhere.

this iris bud fell into the fallen blossom. After the photo, I placed it in a water bowl, it opened and shone for a couple of days before shrivelling into a crinkled, crepe thing.

I have picked the largest rose I ever saw, a Mr Lincoln, and more are coming. It’s of course a classic velvet crimson thing, and was a gift to me from Patsy Hollis, who loves roses and words, and to whom I mentioned my fondness for Mr Lincoln. The roses I grow are all gifts, except my Iceberg, which I bought because I was feeling left out of Hobart’s obsession with iceberg roses. Coming along is Pierre de Ronsard, recent gift from the garden of a wonderful friend who thought she was moving, so gave me her roses, then changed her mind, but lets me keep them. Two x Pierre to adorn the brand new rather raw fence, and a couple of David Austens about to reveal themselves.

Soon I go to India. Some travellers are coming to mind house and garden. I hope it can be their

Light on Columbine

haven for a while, and that from its kind welcome they can go out exploring Tasmania, returning to the gentle realm of the garden. There will be raspberries soon, and the goji berry has flowered! We will see if it comes to anything.

The fence is also about to be clad in PEAS, which are climbing nicely and will feed the houseminding travellers, and hopefully Scarlet Runner Beans, the shiny deep coloured seeds of which are planted, but not yet up. Will they come through before I go?

I have a million photos to show you, am just uploading a couple. At least I have written.

 

 

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