There isn’t a notice saying ‘people give way to birds and plants’, but it’s fairly obvious. It’s quite a mission for anyone to come to my door. First they have to dodge the overhanging branches of the red bottle brush tree, rustling with singing tuis and silver-eyes, and monarch butterflies fluttering in and out. They have to make their way past this tree, between banks of blue agapanthus bending over the path, and down the steps, before pushing past self-seeded white valerian springing across the steps, and bending down beneath the overhanging branches of the plum tree, laden at the moment with tiny red fruit which will ripen into lovely sour little plums by Christmas – perfect for cooking with red wine, bay leaves and cinnamon…
I hope they will avoid stepping on the bricks where some self- seeded love- in- the- mist are pushing their way up in the cracks, and at the bottom of the steps, they have to avoid a self- seeded garden of valerian, orange nasturtiums and that wonderful purple spiky flower which I think some people consider a weed, because it grows so prolifically. I particularly love self seeded plants.
As they reach the door, the curling suckers of the purple wisteria I was forced to cut back before it prised the roof off, are beginning to wave their pale translucent leaves, and the honeysuckle I grew from a cutting taken from a country road is just beginning to sprawl across the trellis.
The other path into the garden is just as tricky for visitors. They have to negotiate two steps down onto a side path. But I erected a trellis arch above it, and now it’s enveloped with Albertine rose and all its prickles, intertwined with ivy and star jasmine. No room to put their hands on the trellis to steady themselves as they come down that path. And having negotiated the steps, they then have to dodge the overhanging branches of the guava tree – its fruit is the nice red tangy sort, which makes lovely guava jelly, but also makes the path hazardous when they drop.
When visitors get here, they never notice the lovely antique wrought iron French door knocker I’ve nailed up by the door, so after using their knuckles to knock tentatively and fruitlessly on the door, they make their way round to the French doors. When they finally get inside, a warm welcome awaits them, and they’ve worked for it!
Last year I wouldn’t even let them go down the main path, and re-routed everyone to the hazardous steps and prickly roses. There was a blackbird nesting in the bottle brush tree. I twined fine chicken wire around the trunk so that the beloved and wicked little black cat wouldn’t get up there. She had sat on the steps under the trellis for weeks, and I hadn’t realised why until winter, when all the leaves had gone from the Albertine, and there was a half finished nest, abandoned by some canny thrushes. The blackbirds made it safely. I used to tiptoe up the path and look up very slowly so as not to frighten them and there would be a head and a tail peeping over the nest, until the day when there were several little heads and open beaks stretching up instead.
This green garden is a tangle of shrubs and plants. When we first came here, there were only big smooth grey river stones sitting on weed-mat, and planted with cactus, a few succulents and spiky yuccas, which I gave away. The grand-children helped me toss the stones into a corner, but most of them were cemented in around every garden bed and along every path. A demented stonemason must have spent a fortune on these big round river stones. So the only thing to do was cover them. Out came the cactus and the rest, and in went ivy - I just couldn’t get the weed-mat up, so I planted ivy on top.
Big square terracotta pots with my topiaried box plants were spaced along a terrace, and now it’s a green garden with a few beds riotous with self seeded flowers and perennials like hollyhocks, fox gloves, day lilies, ageratum, lavatera and marguerites. In autumn, dahlias and white Japanese anenomes brighten the green backdrop. At the moment bright orange cliveas, nasturtiums and pink and orange impatiens light up the bosky green bower.
A friend with a flowerless sculpture garden -with just trees and grass and water - came to see this tiny garden last year. She said: “It talks to me – all those flowers have a meaning for me”. They have meaning for me too, holding memories of childhood, past gardens and friends. The Mexican daisies that I carefully allow to spread, even though they are on the politically incorrect list, came from a friend called Oiroa, Oi for short. They’ve been known to us for nearly forty years as Oi’s daisies, and their roots carried from garden to garden. Then there’s Keith’s Kreepies, the little purple spreading ajuga.
In a big pot by the front door is a rose that has also been carried from garden to garden. I’ve Googled a description of it, and now know it’s a Reine des Violettes which has no prickles. The scent fills the whole garden for the month that its deep pinky- purple tightly layered petalled heads bloom. So many petals – between 50 and 75 – according to the official description, and bred in France in 1860. It was given to me by a friend who’d spent six months at Findhorn, the famous New Age centre in Scotland where they grow astonishing crops in poor sandy soil by communicating with Gaia – the consciousness of the planet- and the devas of the place. Marjorie came back home and put these principles into practise on her farmlet where she grew macadamias to fund her husband’s sub-Antarctic Islands explorations in his yacht, and grew most of her own food. She gave me this cutting from a rose growing by her door.
At her funeral her daughter told us that at a gathering some years before, each person was asked to say what creature they thought they were like. And what creature they would like to be. Gentle un-assuming Marjorie felt she was a worm, beavering away out of sight under the earth doing a vital job, but hidden and un-appreciated. She said she would like to be a bee, doing another vital job, pollinating and making honey, buzzing around in the sunshine, enjoying the beauty. The third aspect of this exercise was how others saw her. And they saw her as a thrush, a beautiful song bird, bringing joy to the garden and to other gardeners and friends.
Her daughter told us that the day Marjorie died, her garden was suddenly full of bees buzzing in all the flowers, and as her girls gathered at the house, the air was alive with the sound of thrushes singing. And when she left the house for the last time, a flight of birds flew over the garden. Gaia knew her faithful daughter, and Gaia “works in mysterious ways”.
Food for Threadbare Gourmet
Still pushing the barrow for broccoli, I love the way the Japanese serve it with sesame sauce. Whenever we are out together in a Japanese restaurant, my daughter and I always order it. You can buy bottles of sesame sauce, but it’s not the same. I can’t be bothered to get all the Japanese ingredients just for this, so I adapt the bottled bought stuff, by adding it to a little mayonnaise – the bought stuff – and stirring it altogether.
Or I make a peanut sauce, which is not the same, but just as delicious. You need four tablesp of peanut butter, two tablsp of brown sugar, one tablsp of vinegar (I use cider vinegar) two tablesp of water, and three tablsp of soy sauce. Mix them altogether over a gentle heat until smooth. I use crunchy peanut butter so it has some texture. Pour over steamed broccoli, this makes a delicious vegetarian dish.
Food for Thought
Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me. I want people to know why I look like this. I’ve travelled a long way, and some of the roads weren’t paved.
I agree with him! This is another quip from Will Rogers, famous part Cherokee cowboy, entertainer, wit, film star and newspaper columnist who died when his plane crashed in 1935