Gardening Together And Spreading Joy

Sharing your garden and spreading the joy

My friend Evangeline called last week — she was feeling low. Evangeline has been doing things for over 70 years. Suddenly in lockdown, all the voluntary projects she is involved with, the lunches with friends and sleepovers with grandkids had to stop. Even her garden looked gloomy, she said. But how could she get new flowers in lockdown?

One option is to buy plants online; there are many nurseries that now sell online. But Evangeline has never bought plants online and felt guilty spending money on herself when so many were in need. So tomorrow, I’m going to mooch around my garden and send her bits of it to plant.

My garden began nearly 50 years ago when a neighbour, Jean, gave me cuttings from her garden, as well as seeds she gathered in her handbag on trips with senior citizens; she would reach over fences to snip off a bit of wood to plant or a seed head ready to give its bounty. Woe betide if her offerings weren’t planted (and growing) next time she wandered up the valley for a visit.

Within three years of her generosity I had trees, flowers, roses and veggies. I was broke, but I had a garden. Ever since, I have been giving bits of my garden away too.

Spring is a wonderful time to share plants. For Evangeline’s cuttings, I’ll head to the salvias, the kinds that bloom in hot dry summers and freezing winters and tolerate extreme neglect. These are my kind of flowers. We have at least 30 different kinds of salvias, from groundcovers to giants that grow twice as tall as I am. There are golden spires in autumn, and a hedge of blue salvias that flower nine months of the year that birds and bees adore. There are giant purple blooms and rich red ones in winter in the most sheltered part of the garden, and an orange groundcover salvia with furry grey-green leaves that I have never seen in any salvia collection.

It’s easy to take cuttings of salvias: you just snap off a bit of wood and poke it in the ground. If it’s spring and the soil is moist, that bit of wood will probably grow, as long as you wrap the ends in damp newspaper, and the whole lot in something waterproof, and post it in the overnight express (which is no longer “overnight”, but they’ll survive at least a week in the post).

Big white federation daisies are easy to take cuttings of; so too are the smaller pink and yellow ones, and all of the lavenders, the hibiscus, the bougainvillea, wormwoods, the fuchsias and the roses, though rose cuttings need to be poked into damp sand and left to grow roots before planting them out.

This is also the time to divide plants; the ones I planted decades ago and have multiplied ever since: bright red or yellow red hot pokers, some that bloom in summer and the even more welcome winter ones; the modern varieties of hellebore I grew with fingers crossed from seeds, hoping they’d grow true to type with long stems for cutting and rich purple flowers, and most of them did — we have a dozen different shades of purple hellebore from the one bush I took seeds from, starting from pale mauve grey to an almost-black ink colour that flowers all late winter and spring. There are clove pink plants to divide (the scent is stunning) and agapanthus — the modern varieties that don’t turn into weeds — and oregano and thymes and several kinds of mint.

Possibly, OK, almost certainly, I’m going to send her far too much — her garden is already well planted. It just needs a few new gems for her to enjoy as they grow and delight with the colours of their flowers. It doesn’t matter if there are surplus cuttings or divisions; her neighbours are keen gardeners. Even in lockdown she can leave the cuttings on the footpath for them to collect, and demand, “Have you planted them yet? Are they putting out leaves?”

Years ago I discovered I love giving away plants as much as I love giving away our surplus fruit. I now grow pots of seedlings and cuttings specially to give away. The bloke who gave me a lift back from Sydney last year was greeted by my husband with a potted coffee plant to thank him, as well as a basket of limes.

I have a whole box full of various potted lilly pillies to give away. Come to think of it, I need to send one of those to Evangeline, or maybe two or three. The flowers are brilliant white blossom and the berries are a glorious purple and red.

I love mooching around garden centres and through garden catalogues, especially the ones that grow new hardy cultivars or new fruits like the plum and cherry cross I’ve planted this winter. But deep within me is the conviction that gardens should be gifts, from our friends and from the earth around us.

You should not have to pay for beauty. Flowers, vegetables and trees have been seeding and fruiting long before we human beings came on the scene. We just need to know how and when to gather them.

When you share a garden, you are planting hope: the hope those dead-looking sticks and withered seeds will brighten our gardens with flowers not just for us, or for those who pass our gardens and enjoy them too, but for the birds, insects and thousands of microfauna. Sharing a garden is celebrating the extraordinary generosity of our planet, and every green and growing gift we plant helps to preserve it.

Jackie French

Jackie French

Jackie French is a gardener, ecologist, honorary wombat, 2014-2015 Australian Children's laureate, 2015 Senior Australian of the year and passionate believer in the need for all humans to feel part of the earth around them, by understanding the plants that sustain us.

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