Posts Tagged ‘Flowers’

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.


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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.

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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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All day I’ve been writing the Marjorie Bligh article so my word brain is used up.  At times like these, we need flowers, and a little help from previously published work…

Lily in the Sky

“For many gardeners the source of inspiration is an aesthetic one. They want to create and be surrounded by beauty… As a creative art, gardening uses the bounty of nature like no other form of human expression.”  from Beyond Organics, by me.

Winter Rose, Helleborus, Bonnie Banks garden, Tamar Valley

Winter Rose in the Sky

Feet in the water, reaching for the sun: Louisiana water iris

Eucalyptus leucoxylon rosea, a delightful small tree for the garden

Eucalyptus ficifolia: bowls of nectar

“In Australia, eucalypts are the most important tree genus in the wild, and ditto in the environmental garden. In the ecological profit-and-loss sheet, they give and give and give, and their needs are easily met due to the sophistication of their adaptations to survival. Their blossoms, nectar, pollen, leaves, seeds, sap and even their wood are all food sources to myriad birds, insects and mammals. The food matrix on a eucalypt is complex, as the feeders themselves attract many predators… Nesting sites, nesting materials, perches and shelter are all provided in abundance by eucalypts, especially old trees and hollows.”  from Beyond Organics, by me.

Colours of Australia: Kangaroo Paw

Kangaroo Paw in the sky

“Flamboyance is for the birds… Give them big red flowers dripping nectar and a strong stalk to grip onto, and they will take pollen to your neighbour, no questions asked. Think of the Australian grevilleas, kangaroo paw, bottle brush and most magnificent, the NSW waratah – radiant, sturdy, nectar-rich and with pollen strategically placed for brushing onto the bird’s nead or neck.”  from Beyond Organics, by me.

Water Lily dreaming

“Water means life. Research has shown that a reliable source of clean water is the single most important factor in attracting and keeping birds in gardens. Using birds as a biodiversity indicator, it can be assumed that overall biodiveristy goes up when there is a water supply such as a pond or birdbath… The combination of water, flowers and humidity also brings more insects, which, of course, attract more birds… Providing water helps maximise the potential of your own plot. In this way you create opportunities for other life forms.” 

from Beyond Organics, by me.

Beyond Organics: Gardening for the Future by me, Helen Cushing is available from me. Next post will be about it and how to purchase from me. If you are desperate for it before then, please let me know and we can make a plan to get it to you quick smart!

Beyond Organics being launched, 2005

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Nasturtium peaking through the palings...

If you have nasturtiums in your garden, you will know what I mean when I say they are a plant requiring a relationship with their gardener.

I am a great fan of the nasturtium, but let’s just say they regularly test the friendship. They are a sort of teenage plant – lots of life, energy and beauty, but unsure of their boundaries. Or perhaps more accurately, uninterested in their boundaries.

It’s my fault, I know. I planted them in the first place. Just like I had babies in the first place, before I had teenagers. I wanted them (the nasturtiums that is) to fill empty corners with their brightness, to ramble eagerly and a little carelessly over edges and up bare walls, to spread, inhibition-free, under the canopy of fruit trees. They have done all that I wanted. But when my back is turned, they can’t resist a bit of creativity. As with teenagers, my back is turned too often.

On the move...

The garden shed for example. The gap under the door is a bit big. The long-armed, sun-loving nasturtiums like to explore (like teenagers, I hear you think). In under the door they slide, feel their way in the dark, careless now of the sun-loving label, and make their stealthy way up the bench to check out all the tools that need putting away. Higher and higher they reach, somehow finding support, somehow living on darkness, though they grow pale and dull in there, like teenagers on too much night-life. When finally found out, they look repentantly sick.

There is another patch by the veggie bed. As an organic gardener and nature conservationist I believe in having a ‘living mulch’, maximising the habitat, protecting the soil, growing biomass etc – I’m sure you know the reasons. But as with teenagers, so with living mulch/nasturtium. The relationship must be interactive to achieve best results. Neglect means loss of influence (otherwise known as control), blurred boundaries, the need for a firm hand at a later date. Recovering the veggie garden from the enthusiasm of nasturtiums is more an act of archaeology than gardening.

Perhaps under the fruit trees is the best place for our teenage nasturtiums. They can burst out zealously in all directions, lounge around, be a living mulch par excellence, attract the buzzing bees to their abundant nectar and be unceremoniously clipped by the passing blades of the buzzing lawnmower every so often. I can pick their flowers for salads, their leaves for chopping onto scrambled eggs and pull their soft stems back from the tree trunk as I pass.

Nasturtiums again... taking over....

It is a relationship I know I will never perfect but will continue to enjoy and indulge. There are so many charming things about this cheerful, easy-going plant. I couldn’t bear to grow them in a straitjacket. Better to let them take their own form, find their own way as you keep half a loving eye on them and administer occasional discipline. Just like… teenagers.

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