My garden 2016 Early spring

Several of my instagram followers have expressed a wish to see some of my garden photos from this season, so, to all you lovers of mountains and wilderness, please accept my apology for this intrusion into the normal theme.

I have several friends who only want flowers to occur in the bush (or presumably up a mountain), in their natural state. I admit that a cultivated garden is, in that it is ordered, selected and arranged, “unnatural”, although it uses the products of nature. More to the point, for me, a garden is a creative outlet (like my photography): it is my playing with nature. I love to sieve the soil with my fingers (I never wear gloves), getting my hands, knees and face filthy while I am at it. I am thrilled that little Gussy has planting, and caring for what is planted, as a regular part of his preschool curriculum. I love the photos that arrive home of all the children with their fingers covered in pure, dirty earth. (Melbourne University Early Learning Centre – fabulous place).

Famous Czech playwright, Karel Čapek, wrote that we must give more to the soil than we take from it. This is, surely, a life principle, not just a gardening one; children who are taught to care for plants learn this valuable lesson early.

Universities like to have lovely gardens on campus. What does a garden have to do with learning? The answer was already intuited by the ancient Greek philosophers, the Italian garden academies of the renaissance and the wonderful gardens of the English colleges. Plato’s Academy in Athens had a garden that allowed him to withdraw from the polis and its attitudes and seek repose. Robert Pogue Harrison argues that a garden stands as a kind of haven, if not heaven, “a counterforce to history’s deleterious drives”. In a garden, you can withdraw from the masses and think. In that aspect, wilderness is a giant garden, albeit one that we have not had to care for in the same way that we care for a home garden.

Gardens are frustrating: they need constant care – weeding, digging, mulching, mattocking, watering, improving the soil, worrying over sick plants, despairing over the rampaging growth of others. As Capek points out, gardeners do not garden because they believe in work, or because it is a form of fitness training, or even out of a commitment to beauty per se; gardeners garden because they are committed to the future welfare of the thing being tended. I garden because I want my almond tree to grow better, my roses to have more flowers, my daffodils to be healthier and more numerous. I am always looking forward to the next year when my trees will be even bigger, my flowers even more beautiful than this year. A gardener is always looking forward to a grand future.

Gardening is the antithesis of consumerism, for the latter devours but fails to give back. Gardening teaches us to give as well as take, with our eyes on the future. If every human cared deeply about the state of the earth in the decades to come, our planet would be a much happier place to live in, as people would act with more responsibility and thought. Capitalism devours without a glance at the state the world is being left in for the next generation.

Gardening also teaches children (and adults) to care “outwards” for something other than the self. On the way home from preschool recently, I saw an Iris bulb lying on the road beside the path. Gussy and I were holding hands, but we let go so I could rescue this Iris, and stick it back in the soil of its bed. I made a depression with my fingers and stuck it in while he (hilariously) explained to me that it was there because of gorilla gardening (aged four). Magpies had come along and pulled it out. Together, we made sure this bulb was happily placed back in the earth before we continued our journey. A child who has learned at preschool and at home to care for plants (and pets) is, I sincerely hope, on the path to a life of seeing the self in relationship to others, both those living now and those who will be born later.

One of the favourite sentences I have heard from Gussy is when he stood on our verandah and said: “Don’t you just love the way the light shines through the leaves, making patterns everywhere? I love it here.” I think Capek would have liked to have met him. Pity they are separated by nearly a century in time.

My garden 2015 Early spring


I am torn between two worlds of beauty, both of which I love. One half of me wants to rush into the wilderness and climb another mountain, to feel the sense of elation and deep peace up there staring out into infinity. Another part, however, loves the cultivated nature I have at home, playing in my garden where I have planted many of my favourite trees and bulbs and flowering bushes. I love to watch my plants grow – to witness the metamorphosis from promise into reality; I love running my fingers through the earth (I never wear gloves), smelling the fabulous and delicate perfumes, and watching the play of light on petals.


The last twenty of my daffodils are valiantly hanging in there, and the last of the cherry blossoms are shining in the sun. Already, many of the rose bushes have started to produce blooms, heralding, for me, the beginning of the next phase of the year, for I divide spring into two sections: (i) the bulb and blossom phase, and (ii) the rose, rhododendron and iris one. This thus seems a fitting moment to close off the 2015 collection of photos from early spring, and to share with you a few of my favourite flowers and scenes from this year.


One of my heroes in the painting world is Claude Monet. Monet loved nature, and so procured for himself a plot of land removed from the big city where he could plant to his heart’s content. Because he loved what he’d planted, and loved to paint, he shared with us his glorious artworks depicting both his garden and the flowers in it. His painting did NOT represent some ghastly materialistic indication of what he owned. It was a sharing of the beauty of nature and of his creative gifts. I am, of course, no Monet, but I do share his passion for the beauty of the natural world and, in particular, the passage of light and its effects on flowers and trees. Please take these sharings of my garden in this spirit.


I have many friends who only enjoy nature that is wild. As is obvious, I also enjoy nature in its cultivated form. I delight in being able to care for specimens of my favourite plants. I am also a strong believer in the fact that children who are taught to tend the garden grow into adults who have a responsible attitude towards our beautiful earth.


Nearly every day that I am at home, I take our dog for a walk around our garden – usually four times a day. I look for new buds – or any indication of growth – and for signs of problems, for wrinkled or unhealthy leaves, or for gatecrashing weeds that need to be evicted. Tessa hunts for the smell of marauding rabbits, wallabies or possums, or for signs that they have visited recently. Round and round the garden we go, like two teddy bears – or, at a more elevated level, like Charles Darwin, who also loved to walk his own garden every day.

          So did Josephine Bonaparte for that matter – and she would annoy people by telling them the latin binomial name for each of the flowers. Josephine knew and loved her flowers. She was not showing off to say their names: she was merely calling her friends by their proper appellation; it was a form of love. During the wars that he instigated against England (inter alia), Napoleon issued an embargo on all trade with GB – except, of course, for boats that were carrying roses commissioned by Josephine, for she knew then what the rest of us know now: no one grows roses better than the British.


Visitors who popped in on Galileo were surprised to find the great scientist in old clothes, working the garden. He told them he is quite rich enough to afford a gardener, but would never choose to do so, as he enjoyed the work.

Galileo’s observation of his own garden led him to note the phenomenon of water tension. He perceived that the particles within water droplets clung together on cabbage leaves, and correctly deduced that a force was keeping those particles together. Force was required, he wrote, to spread the droplet out across the leaf.


Montaigne said: let death seize me whilst I am setting my cabbages, careless of her dart (that is, the dart of death), and caring more about my imperfect garden.

Voltaire’s conclusion about what is important in life, stated at the end of Candide, was to opine: we ought to cultivate our garden (“il faut cultiver notre jardin”). He is not here talking about how to treat plants; he is, rather, conveying an attitude towards how best to employ our time on earth. He makes his comment against a backdrop of wars, pestilence and disasters. He sees caring for plants as a productive antidote against bellicose and antagonistic destruction. A garden is a retreat from history’s ravages.


If you had been friends with Goethe, the great German literary genius, and popped in on him, you may well found him in his garden. If you went away, you might have received letters containing news of how his garden was growing. If he called in on you, you might have been lucky enough to receive a gift of one of his most precious objects: asparagus, grown and freshly picked by him (but you would have had to be a very special friend – like Charlotte von Stein – for this to happen, as mostly he ate it himself).

The Williams Wordsworth and Blake, across the channel, would and could also be found in their work clothes with a spade or fork in hand. Wordsworth built a huge retaining wall with his own hands, and planted many trees that are still alive today.  
One of the saddest features of the backlash against Napoleon is that Josephine’s beautiful garden, Malmaison, was left to turn to ruins. You can visit the house and see its furniture, but the really interesting feature, her garden – surely one of the best gardens in history – was left to be obliterated by weeds. My garden has some of the roses brought into being by Josephine (she commissioned the best French botanists to propagate new varieties), but her own garden is lost.


Gardens are about learning to care. Capek, the famous and wonderful Czech poet, had a maxim: You must give more to the soil than you take away. He regarded this as an essential attitude to life, not just gardens, and I couldn’t agree more. If our governments and business tycoons had this basic attitude of any good custodian of the earth – learned through the act of gardening –  then our world would not be in its current parlous state. The maxim also holds true, of course, for relationships.

One gardens for the future welfare of what is tended. That is another important attitude that would do our society well to practise. I am thrilled that little three-year-old Gussy goes to a pre-school that teaches him these important lessons, and that has gardening as part of his curriculum. The children are learning responsibility and caring as they attend to the needs of their plants.

My garden 2014 Early spring

Naturelover is back flirting with cultivated nature. Early spring means for me, above all, daffodils, and not just because I love Wordsworth and the Romantic poets. Who can resist the sight of a thousand smiling suns waving good morning at the start of each day? In the south of Italy, Goethe was fascinated by the profusion of nature, and also by the way that nature could manifest itself in so many different variations on a theme. Daffodils have a lot of alteration at the hands of humans in this matter, as we have experimented with different forms and colours, accentuating this or that feature of the flower.  Be that as it may (that is, they are hardly pure, unadulterated nature), I still can’t help loving them. Like Goethe, I love light, and I adore the way the light shines through the petals.

Here are some shots of my garden this year so far. We only have a few more weeks of daffies, and already other buds are thickening up. Soon I’ll be raving about cherry blossom and crab apples. Early roses are already greeting me, trying to eclipse the daffodils with their beauty, but my heart in September only has room for daffies.







Despite my dominating preference for daffodils, I do have a little room left for other early spring blooms as well …..


She claims to have aesthetic appreciation of the garden and view.