“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”
A very Happy New Year to you and may your 2018 be filled with the best of times.
My news is that I have purchased a new home. It has a smaller more manageable garden which will suit this time in my life.
I adore gardens and I will continue to write my posts on Quantum Vis using garden themes.
Please continue to read me and we can explore the pleasure which gardens give together.
In the mean time all the very best to you 2018. Jennifer x
I was alone and beginning to feel like I was in a post-apocalyptic novel.
This place was unnervingly deserted. Where was everybody, perhaps they were all underground?
I had entered the lonely New Moon Mine via a small gate I found in the high wire fence which enclosed the property. It was topped with two rows of sharp rusted barbed wire deterring unwanted entry. The mine sat in a clearing in the Whipstick forest. I had found it by turning off a main road and driving over a farrowed dirt track which wound its way deep into the forest. This led me through an unpleasant dehydrated environment with bush struggling to survive.
The Whipstick is named after its Box-Ironbark trees, which grow spindly and whip like in the dry clay earth. More of a dense scrub than a forest, this is a habitat of narrow trees constricted from growth and covered with a Spartan canopy of dull grey leaves. They languish, stick like, in red stony dirt. I looked down as I walked in case I was attacked by bull ants, jumper ants or more worryingly, a snake.
The monotony of its bushland means the Whipstick is an easy place to get lost. The only geological landmark was a mound of soil which had been removed from the mine.
New Moon Mine was first established as a gold and quartz mine in the 1860s. One hundred and fifty years of refuse from inside the mine created a small hill of gravelly earth. It was a bizarre sight which had the look of being both natural and man made. Beside this lunar-esque knoll I saw a series of overgrown low brick walls. The remains of antiquated windings, used over a century ago to pull the earth from deep in the mine.
This was a harsh location to work and the names given by the first miners to the gullies where they toiled reflect that. There are Dead Man, Dead Dog and Beelzebub Gullies. One mine bore the curious but probably accurate moniker of Unfortunate Bolle’s. Who was Unfortunate Bolle and what had become of him all those years ago?
On the map this area is marked as Sailor’s Gully, named after the seamen who had illegally jumped ship in Melbourne to try their luck in the diggings.
New Moon is in the bush outside Bendigo, an Australian provincial city built in the 19th century on the profits of gold mining. Gold was found in the 1850s and Bendigo went on to become one of the largest gold producing regions in the world.
Like the sailors before me I came here in search of a precious commodity but in my case it was water. The New Moon Mine is still in operation, and has a problem with underground water. The solution is to pump this excess water to the surface and this is what I wanted to buy.
Bendigo experienced a prolonged drought starting in 1997 which eventually forced the city to ban all garden watering. My established garden and historic oak trees were in need of an alternative water supply and New Moon was a potential source.
However the day I entered the New Moon Mine I found it was deserted and I was sorry I hadn’t told anyone where I was.
What if I went the way of Unfortunate Bolle? What if I was murdered and thrown down a mine?
I would never be found because Bendigo mine shafts go down for kilometres. They have cross cut tunnels which spread out like ant’s nests so there are plenty of subterranean places to hide a body. My life could end in mystery. Perhaps I would feature in the sort of TV programmes discussed in office tearooms. Whatever happened to Jennifer Teh?
‘Can I help you?’ a deep voice behind me boomed. I jumped.
It was a large man, clearly a miner, with a beard long enough to cover his torso. He was a frightening sight but turned out to be very helpful man.
I left New Moon grasping a contract allowing me to purchase enough water to continually fill the large tank I had recently installed in my garden. I employed a man with a water tanker to transport a load of New Moon water to my garden every two weeks. Then it was pumped around my garden and this happy arrangement lasted for a year or so.
Unfortunately, the drought continued and Bendigo’s municipal parks and lakes were dry so the city procured all of New Moon’s excess water. I was exasperated and worried about my oak trees.
A greywater system was required and I became an amateur plumber, designing and installing one. The water from my laundry and bath was pumped around the garden using a sump pump with an odd assortment of black poly pipes. If you hate washing clothes, imagine collecting the ‘used greywater’ in the sink and pumping it onto the garden. I had to constantly move, disconnect and reconnect poly pipes so all the garden was watered. It was an ever demanding balancing act.
However this was not enough water for my thirsty garden and the alkaline nature of the greywater was killing the rhododendrons and azaleas which require acidic soils. I needed a new solution to my watering woes.
Then I was lucky enough to negotiate a deal with a carrier who agreed to deliver me water from an aquifer 50 kilometres away. I was back in the business of watering my garden again.
The Millennium drought was the longest recorded since European settlement. In Bendigo it lasted 10 long years with harsh restrictions for most of that time. During those years I pumped and dragged hoses around my garden, sometimes well into the winter months. It was hard work.
When the Big Dry finally broke, children who had never seen rain were mesmerized.
My garden fared better than most in Bendigo. I lost several established rhododendrons which were as tall as my house and two groves of beautiful silver birches, but happily my grand oak trees survived.
This morning, under those oaks trees, a large rhododendron bloomed. She is the only rhododendron to have survived. I smiled and thanked her for her generous soft pink blooms.
Then I thought of the time back in the drought when I wandered around the New Moon Mine trying to find a supply of water to keep her alive.
The things we do for our gardens.
I know a lady named Hyacinth, perhaps you know her too?
She has an unusual pronunciation of her surname, it is written as Bucket but pronounced Bouquet.
I’m talking about the social climbing Hyacinth Bucket from the hilarious BBC Television series, Keeping up Appearances.
Hyacinth was an overbearing women always trying to impress others with her snobbish social refinement.
Her catchphrase when answering the telephone was, ‘Bouquet residence, lady of the house speaking.’ Hyacinth’s long suffering neighbours dreaded her exclusive candlelight suppers where she commanded care must be taken with her hand painted Royal Dalton.
Hyacinth desperately tried to hide her working class background with excruciating pretentiousness. Then her amusing ragbag family would inevitably appear at inopportune moments and give us all a good laugh.
In my garden the hyacinths are in bloom and they remind me of their namesake in Keeping up Appearances.
Hyacinths are one of the most impressive garden flowers. They are very grand but each one originates from a simple unglamorous bulb. In that respect they are similar to Hyacinth Bucket.
Colours include pinks and white but a deep blue is the plant’s most iconic shade. It reminds me of the blue hair tint once fashionable with 1960’s matrons. Even the shape of the flowers resembles the popular beehive hair style of that time, where hair was piled high into cylindrical mounds. I wonder if Hyacinth Bucket wore a blue beehive in the 60’s.
For you own garden Hyacinths, plant the bulbs during autumn in dappled shade with good drainage. They prefer a cool climate and will reward you with glorious spring blooms.
You can also grow hyacinths indoors using special vases. The single bulb is held at water level by the narrowing neck of the vase. Grow in a cool room, away from sunlight but keep the water topped up to the base of the bulb. You can add a piece of charcoal to the water to keep it fresh.
Soon roots grow down into the water and the flower spike with its leaves will shoot from the top.
Once the flower begins to open the vase can be moved into a sunny position. Hyacinths are beautifully fragrant and will perfume your home.
Sadly, the bulb uses all its reserves when growing. Therefore it will not produce a decent flower next season, so throw it out once finished.
The plant acquired its name from a mythological Greek youth named Hyacinth. He was slayed and it is said where he bled onto the earth Hyacinths began to grow.
However, when I see them flowering, I prefer to think of dear Hyacinth Bucket and her side splitting attempts at keeping up appearances.
“We are gathered today to celebrate the lives of these maidenhair ferns which have died in my care.”
I regularly hold funerals for my maidenhair ferns and they even have their own graveyard in my garden.
These plants were healthy when I brought them into my home, but each ends up a mass of drooping brown leaves.
I love maidenhair ferns, but they are not a plant I seem to be able to grow.
My aunt knows all the tricks, and grows maidenhair ferns with the ease that Monet grew water lilies.
Great pots of healthy maidenhair ferns almost bob with buoyancy in her fernery. Bunches of fine black fronds spring from the pots and crowns of delicate lush leaves open to float about them. They arch and fall, cascading like fountains spouting waterfalls of emeralds.
There are 200 varieties of maidenhair fern and each has an intrinsic freshness. Although they have no fragrance, I feel the air is somehow sweeter in their presence.
Maidenhair ferns are temperamental to grow and prefer a constant temperature without drafts. This is where I go wrong. With winter heating and summer air conditioning blowing cold air, it’s little wonder mine never survive.
Maidenhair ferns must be kept moist at all times, even a short period of dryness is enough for them to turn up their toes. It’s also very important they have a humid environment.
The best way to provide humidity is to grow the fern on a saucer filled with water and small stones. The water evaporates producing humidity and the stones prevent the roots from rotting by keeping them out of the water.
Maidenhair ferns are hungry and need a liquid fertilizer on alternate weeks
If grown outside, they need dappled shade and protection from frosts. My little maidenhair graveyard has exactly these conditions with a brick wall providing protection from temperature changes.
No need to send me your condolences because after about three months something astonishing happens.
Like Lazarus the maidenhair ferns arise from the dead. Fronds begin to grow and small green leaf buds develop. When the newly risen plant is looking good it is brought back into the house. After time, I have the same unhappy results so its out to the graveyard and the circle of life continues.
Now back to the funeral; a couple more pots of maidenhair fern are going out to the graveyard. The grief is too much, where is my handkerchief…
Blanche Fay from Louisville was not a woman to be trifled with. Her style was one of confrontation rather than the ethereal manner adopted by her daughter Daisy Buchanan. Blanche charged into Daisy’s drawing room on Long Island like an admiral taking command of a wayward fleet.
First Blanche kissed Nick and then Daisy making clear her order of preference. Her daughter annoyed Blanche. She thought Daisy was pretty enough but was absolutely senseless, just a beautiful little fool. On the other hand, Nick Caraway, who was the son of her sister, was a decent hard working young man who had come out East to make good.
As Blanche kissed each of them a long string of pearls rattled on her bosom. Blanche preferred these gems of the sea and she wore them with enthusiasm. Firstly a long strand fell over her bust, then three strands hugged her neck and two larger pearls dropped from her ear lobes.
This was overdone. Likewise, the lace on her bodice was exceedingly ruched and her skirt fabric had an inappropriate lustre for the afternoon. It was all too flashy.
Daisy noticed, she had always noticed. She quietly longed for a mother like those of her school friends. One who could distinguish between good taste and vulgar ostentation. A mother who knew to wear soft pastel muslin in the afternoon and compliment it with smaller and fewer pearls.
Nick poured the tea. ‘You were always such a helpful boy,’ Blanche said to her nephew.
She got straight to the point, she had heard rumours.
‘Nick dear,’ Blanche confided, ‘it is acceptable for a man to have a male friend who may not be of your social calibre. Particularly if he is someone like Mr Gatsby who can advance your career’”
‘But,’ she continued, ‘even in this day and age such a friend should not be introduced to a lady, no matter how hard one is trying to be useful.’
Now Blanche turned her attention to Daisy, ‘Your marriage to Tom has provided you with security and station in life.’ She scolded Daisy, ‘As ladies we have no right to expect love. That my dear, is an emotion reserved only for the lower classes. Ladies of our standing, must be dutiful.’
Blanche recalled her early life as a vicar’s daughter when she possessed a single decent dress to wear on Sunday and how a successful marriage had elevated her socially. ‘This was not to be played with,’ Blanche advised. ‘Our social position must be maintained or else it will be a sad backward slide. Do not take things for granted.’
Blanche explained, ‘Society is very strict. No matter how well off someone is, if they are not acceptable to good society then they are out. I fear you both misunderstand this.’ Nick and Daisy looked nervously at their hands. Blanche was exasperated and proclaimed, ‘Your acquaintance, Mr Gatsby, is not and never will be in society. His background is far too dubious.’
With a delicate turn of her head, Blanche issued her command in a firm but polite voice, ‘I suggest you both discontinue your connections with Mr Gatsby immediately.’
Before Daisy or Nick could protest Blanche went on, ‘We have another problem, my impoverished cousin from Louisville has an unpleasant pair of daughters. Daisy, do you remember Myrtle and Catherine?’
Blanche’s eyes rolled to the ceiling and her eye brows arched, ‘Myrtle has married a Mr Wilson from out this way, and her sister has followed her here. Because both of these sisters now live in the vicinity of New York, their ghastly mother has suggested they pay each of you visit.’
Blanche directed Daisy on how to manage the situation, ‘You must instruct the staff never to let them into the house. They must always say, you are indisposed.’ Blanche added, ‘It is for the best.’
Nick was advised to never reply to any correspondence from the sisters. Blanche reassured him, ‘Don’t worry Nick, I shall tell their mother you have moved house.’
Then Blanche addressed them firmly as if Daisy and Nick were schoolchildren, ‘Now remember their names, Myrtle Wilson and Catherine Fitzgerald. Have nothing to do with them!’
Suddenly Blanche stopped talking, she looked up as a tall handsome figure walked into the room. She smiled and gushed, ‘Why good afternoon Tom.’
Daisy glanced at Nick with a weak embarrassed smile. Thank goodness her husband’s arrival had saved them from her dominating mother.
Nick felt he was a boy again, as if he had received a scolding similar to those in his younger more vulnerable years. Daisy felt as if she was a boat against a current and there was no point in trying to row against her mother’s forceful tide.
As the afternoon drew to a close the sun began to set across South Egg. It was time for the green light on the end of Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s dock to turn on.
Looking at the light shining across the water, Daisy thought of Gatsby whose grand house was on the opposite point. She sighed and lamented. With her mother visiting from Louisville, Daisy realised both Nick and her will have to end their friendship with Jay Gatsby.
Acknowledgments to the great F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I have removed the remnants of last summer’s tomato plants from their pots in my garden.
As I pulled them out, I remembered tending to them back in the heat of January and February. I had become sick of watering them, of going out the back door of my cool home and wading through the treacle-like heat to get to the garden hose.
There were certainly times when I through I shouldn’t bother to grow tomatoes. “Are they worth the trouble of planting, watering and the cost of the fertilizer,” I questioned?
But I persevered because I knew home grown tomatoes are so much better than the supermarket ones with their hard glossy skins. Eating a home grown tomato is one of life’s joys.
Firstly the taste is much sweeter than the store bought. This heightened sweetness counterbalances the tomato’s natural acidity so the home gown taste is not too sharp on the palette. Instead the flavour is smooth, like velvet.
Then there is the texture; home grown tomatoes are softer, plumper and juicer. They easily rupture in the mouth so only a gentle bite is needed to release their sweet juice.
Despite the summer heat, I enjoy the simple task of harvesting my tomatoes.
First I brush past the rosemary to reach the tomato pots. The rosemary releases its lively invigorating scent; a fragrance more restorative than a cup of strong tea.
Then I lean over the basil growing in front of the tomatoes and my clothes become impregnated with the aroma of fresh basil. It’s a clean, almost virtuous smell.
But it the smell of home grown tomatoes which I like the best. It’s an earthy honest scent which lingers on your hands.
When I recently removed the old tomato bushes my fingers were infused with this lovely fragrance. I took a deep breath and on a cold winter’s day I could smell summer.