The true beauty of a garden lies in the people and experiences in it.
If you had asked me before last week what was the nicest thing in my garden, I would probably have reeled off the names of a swag of plants coming into bloom these spring days.
I would have included the lovely primula with its delicate stemmed pink and white petals, the dazzling firey Crucifix orchids, the plump red Hippeastrum buds opening into trumpets of colour, the White May bush budding into life, the Azaleas pushing out flower after flower of dusky pink splendour and the dainty sweet smelling Jasmine creeper twirling around its trellis. Maybe the bright yellow Daylilies nodding away under the crepe myrtle or the stunning ruby and apricot bougainvillea spilling out of their pots.
But last week, the true beauty and joy of my garden manifested when a couple of dozen of my family members gathered there to mark the centenary of my father’s birth.
He wasn’t actually present, having passed away 33 years ago, but his stamp upon our family and extended remains a strong imprint and always comes to mind when I am in the garden.
So assembling there for a memorial lunch in his honour seemed fitting and the beauty of the garden was never more real to me.
Real because it was alive with some of my favourite people laughing, talking, connecting, sharing memories, forming new ones, reacquainting and meeting new generations of the flock. The garden was the backdrop, the back story to this event, and it was a lovely landscape to house it in.
As we sat and talked and reminisced about our Dad with the scent of our Murraya hedge wafting across the chatter, his pictures in view and our written and verbal memories filling the air, it occurred to me gardens like rooms, are only truly beautiful with human love and warmth resonating there.
I make this connection not because Dad was a memorable gardener, although he did love to grow things – with mixed success.
I make it because gardens, like houses, are lifeless if they don’t carry an imprint of a spirit that walks or walked there.
Dad raised six sons and two daughters on an average sized suburban city block, so there was little space a clumsy, rowdy, noisy brood and their friends didn’t occupy and trample. Yet he had the touching aspiration of growing roses and so he planted a swathe down the steep side of our house.
They bloomed but didn’t stand a chance of survival against all our trolleys, bikes, prams and scooters that crashed into them with (painful) frequency. He did get his own back, though. We had to weed the rose garden and the horrible memory of the sharp stabs of their thorns still haunts me. And he spread blood and bone there every spring at which we all gagged as we ran past.
The block I was raised on was hard pressed to grow a front lawn. There were too many fierce and crowded games of rounders, tennis and cricket between us and the neighbourhood kids to let the turf flourish.Later, my brothers had an army of friends in overalls spreading motors and gearboxes out of cars and motorbikes all over the yard as they learnt the rudiments of mechanics at the cost of a Home & Garden magazine cover. The back yard was not memorable for its flowering splendour, either. I remember mint growing under the tap, banana trees we stripped leaves from to make hula skirts and one very convenient, misshapen gum we used as a climbing frame to get on to the roof ( mostly to retrieve balls and Frisbees) .
The other side yard was hard pressed to grow much at all besides a gigantic monsteria and a determined Cassia tree under which we made a line of graves where lay many a pet skittled by cars on our busy road. Dad usually did the digging for these, simultaneously comforting his weeping kids and giving silent thanks it wasn’t one of them he had to scrape up and carry off the bitumen. But as I walk around that yard today, I imagine I can still hear my mother’s squeal as Dad regularly put an earthworm down the back of her dress.
So as I gazed about our garden last week taking in all the family talk and recollections of Dad, it looked beautiful to me not for what grew there, but because people were rekindling love and memory there and making new versions of them to hand on and call up — maybe in 100 years from now.