Sitting by the fire on a winter’s afternoon, drinking a nice cup of Twining’s lapsang souchong, I gaze through the window-pane at the fence beyond.
On it I have nailed a persimmon and an apple. A tui, its deep turquoise plumage framed by the flaming orange fruit, is plunging his long beak into the persimmon with jerky relish. When he flies away, a blackbird drops in, his sooty black feathers and orange beak also beautiful against the bright colour of the persimmon.
Beyond the fence is a designated road. This means that about a hundred and fifty years ago, this village was surveyed, and that bit of land was set aside for a road. But since the surveyors were reputed to have been working from England, they designed the road to plunge straight over the cliff and into the sea. So it’s only a paper road. Since I’ve been here, I’ve spent a fortune paying the local handyman to spray the purple morning glory growing there which threatened to engulf house, strangle the trees and smother the garden when we first arrived. The sprawling purple flowers have now been eradicated , and instead, orange nasturtiums have colonised the space, along with arum lilies and cannas, and swan plants, to feed the monarch butterflies.
I’ve planted New Zealand flax bushes, for the tuis to suck the honey from their red flowers in summer, and best of all I’ve planted an oak tree. One of my grandsons and I grew it from an acorn in another of my gardens. As the years passed, and we moved from house to house, the pot with the oak went with us. Here, there seemed room to plant this spreading tree without fear of blocking anyone else’s sun. So now, screening the view of a neighbour’s house, and all the trampers walking past on the coast to coast track, our acorn has grown to be about twenty feet tall, and is spreading its branches wide in the boundless space of the paper road.
This makes me, I discover, a guerrilla gardener. Not an urban guerrilla gardener, but a rustic guerrilla gardener. I’ve also taken over the grass berm in front of the house, planted it with curving beds of blue agapanthus and ageratum, pink daisies and lambs lugs, and in spring, sprinkle wild flower seeds which bloom all summer long.
I was thrilled to discover that urban guerrilla gardeners are taking over cities all over the world. In Auckland, they plant lost plots on busy roads and forgotten council sites, and produce vegetables as well as flowers. A group of women in one suburb have approached the residents of streets with wide grass berms, and got their permission to plant fruit trees. The idea of fruit trees laden with seasonal apples and plums and peaches lining suburban streets is delicious – shades of Johnny Appleseed…
I’d always thought he walked the roads tossing apple- seeds along the way, but apparently not, he created orchards on plots of land he bought. From my experience of trying to plant trees along the wayside, he was wise. Mine got broken, nibbled by hungry goats and trampled won when cows were put to graze the long acre – country parlance for the grass banks along country roads.
One of the most inspiring things I’ve read recently, is that now big business has taken over the country-side, and planted hundreds of acres of one crop, whether in the States, England or elsewhere, thus destroying plant and wild life with this mono-culture, gardeners seem to be saving the planet. It’s been discovered that in gardens there are dozens of forgotten species of plants, birds and wild-life, and the more we garden, the more we are doing to save all this diversity, even in cities. We have bee hives now in the centre of Auckland city on the roof of City hall.
So bees are dodging busy traffic and winging their way to the gardens and parks around the inner city, visiting the potted plants of roof gardens and tiny city balconies. The other side of this is that people are concreting over their front gardens for parking and putting in paving and hard surfaces in the back, while developers are buying up land where gardens once were. So we gardeners, urban, country, or guerrilla are vital for all the birds and plants and tiny creatures who’ve been driven from their habitats in the country.
The world needs our untidy garden corners where leaves and weeds and rubbish quietly rot for hedgehogs and other animals. They need a bit of untidiness, and forgotten corners in which to hide and hibernate, bees and butterflies need our flowers, while birds and squirrels and other life forms depend on our trees and hedges and shrubs. So gardeners of the world, unite and pat each other on the back! We are not just self-indulgently creating our own paradise, we are also saving the planet!
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
When you want a treat for children, you can’t go past meringues, – quick, cheap and easy. And the best thing is having the yolks for mayonnaise. Even when times are tough, I only buy free range eggs, and the upside of this is that you know you’ve got good fresh eggs.
So take two eggs, and separate the yolks from the whites. Measure 120g of castor sugar… Whisk the egg whites till they’re stiff and form little peaks when you lift the beater out. Gradually whisk in half the sugar, and it’ll become wonderfully shiny. Then gently fold in the rest of the sugar with a metal spoon –very lightly, so as not to break up the meringue. Using a dessert or table spoon, ladle the meringue at intervals onto a grease–proof paper lined baking tray, and put in the oven on very low heat – 140 degrees. Leave in the oven for 70 minutes for the bigger size, 40 minutes for a small size. When they feel firm, you can lift one and check the underside is cooked. Leave them in the oven until cold, so they don’t go soggy. They will last for ages if stored in an air tight container.
Two egg whites will make about twenty meringues, which you can sandwich together with some whipped cream. Children love them as- is, and they’re delicious served with ice-cream and fruit- especially strawberries or raspberries. A bit extravagant maybe, but sometimes children deserve it!
Food for Thought: Ascetism is not that you should not own anything, but that nothing should own you.
Ali Ibn Abi Talib who was Muhammed’s nephew, son-in-law and closest follower, and one of the Sufi order’s great saints.