Saturday, December 18, 2010

How not to write a poem ...

'Do you have a wonderful garden?'
she asked. Pic: Eucalyptus Elata planted
about thirty years ago.

September 2010
With apologies to Jackie French

Dear Jackie,

There was a small window of time when, discovering green thumbs, I grew - in a no-dig-no-weed style - all manner of vegetable manna. After a succession of life changes I have returned to the garden only to find my green thumbs withered on their stems.

Your planting calendar is well thumbed and your instructions followed: I put a finger up to the wind, my bare bum to the ground. I use newspaper and hay and weed mats, straw and sheep poop and moo poo. Okay sometimes, most times, I slide...

I ran out of mulch and it got too cold to go out, so the top patch is knee deep grass (the drought has broken). The daffodils went in a bit late. It’s September and their green stalks range from 4 centimetres to four inches. The sweet pea went in a bit late too. They range from 6 centimetres to six inches and from pale green to yellow.

Self-sown parsley has survived in one corner and I can see a tip of silverbeet. But the spring onions are seed balls, and there’s not a pea, nor a snowpea to be seen. The rhubarb has also disappeared. In another patch the broad beans are flowering well but the stems are yellowing from lack of sun – more overgrown grass.

Only one spinach plant is still in sight. Two cabbage plants survived the rabbits and possums and my lack of attention, but I broke the rule, pulled at the weeds and out came one of the cabbages. Both had gone to seed anyway.

The fifteen geranium cuttings I planted in front of the verandah are gone. They thrived for a while then either got stomped on by runaway sheep, pulled out by the possum that lives in the roof now that the old dogs have gone or went to mush in the saturated but still frosty winter.

But it’s spring. I am all thumbs as I optimistically tie belated strings for the sweet peas to climb and clear out more grass to let in light. We’ve had lashings of rain, but they seemed quite dried out. I didn’t think of the wind tearing through that very spot.

I see two of the five violas near the gate are still growing. They are a fraction of the size since I first transplanted them from Dear Neighbour’s garden when she was on holiday, which by the way is where the geraniums came from. They go away a lot since I started applying your bare bum strategy. One viola has a single purple flower. The sum of nearly a year’s gardening.

Other geraniums began to grow in my mind though. I remembered the day I got lost driving home from Gunning. I went via Gundaroo. Binalong is north west of Gunning. Gundaroo is south. It tripled the distance and noone can figure out how I could’ve done that anyway.

I went by a back road. I might have followed the river. I don’t know what river. Luckily it was late summer, the weather and daylight with me. Dirt. Gravel. Bends. Steep embankments. No signs. No sense of direction. Before Tomtoms. Glorious gums though. Eventually I came to an unmarked T-intersection, which I knew was critical.

The first house I had seen in hours was on my left – that was a clue. White weatherboard, crouching from raging winds, a flat, dry, scratchy farmland. I stopped at the gate and walked up the driveway to the whitewashed porch. The only garden a strip of red geraniums growing tall but pinned flat against the white wall by wire netting.

This wind hurls my clothes around my body my calves. My hair is whipped. Knocking the door I had thoughts of body-size tuckerbox freezers and no way of my screams being heard. A white haired trim man came to the door. He wore overalls over a white collar and tie and a gentle been-to-church expression. He gave me directions. Said it happens often here. Not travelling Gunning to Yass/Binalong via Gundaroo I thought.

I try to make sense of his directions, but mainly I am only able to follow his hand with my eyes as it tips and curves in explanation of the turns and roads I should take. His snaking hand is why I think I followed a river.

At some point I will come back on to the bypass he says. I do. The farm is not as remote as it seemed. I am reminded it’s worth looking at things from different angles, opposite directions, other perspectives. Like writing.

The wind couldn’t defeat the red geraniums but they have defeated me. They haunt me.  A former co-worker once said to me with expectation: Do you have a wonderful garden? In response to my bemusement she added: Writers always have wonderful gardens.

So, to work. The wilderness garden bible says: Don’t panic… Phew! …September is the main planting time. Panic! Gardening gloves. Panic… Make coffee instead… It’s several years since that workshop, but still those geraniums that chicken wire that wind…always in my head…

December 2010
The spinach has gone to seed and there are only two sweet pea flowers but the parsley is doing well and I wrote the geranium poem…I think…

If you got to the end of this post: (1) I apologise for the epic (2) I promise not to write about gardening again (3) you might like to visit for current books including children’s titles and historical novels AND news about the proposed Dargue's Reef Mine at Major's Creek and calls to action.

1992. French, Jackie. Beyond Organic Garden: The Wilderness Garden, Aird Books, Flemington, Vic.

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