Tough and tenacious sometimes tugs at gardening emotions more than the bold and beautiful.
People often ask what pulled me into gardening – I cannot identify any seminal moment, rather a series of visits to friends’ and family members’ places and the distinct happiness I came away with after learning a new plant name.
Add to this a rush of envy and pleasure yanking their crisp carrots and lettuces out of the ground to eat that day. But I do distinctly remember the first plant that took my eye as an emerging gardener was a spikey but elegant Indian hawthorn bush –cockspur hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli) in the rocky house yard of a cousin’s farm on the Condamine River, Darling Downs.
Armed and dangerous: Its thorns used to tear us to ribbons if we rode too close to it, but something about it matched the gritty determination of the farm owners to weather seasons sometimes so dry that the river became cracked mud flats. If their livestock ever wandered unasked into the house yard, the hawthorn’s formidable thorns ensured it was one bush they didn’t eat. They were armed and dangerous for passers-by, hence there’s little seen of them now in public places.
When I see the parched, heartbreakingly dry earth of Queensland’s west and my Longreach friend Sally’s optimistic and ever-gracious prayers for rain, I think of that Indian hawthorn and all its sharp and brittle countenance surviving,
fighting …“stayin alive”, as the song goes.
Bees love them: Some years ago I planted a much tamer variety, the pretty pink flowering Majestic Beauty (Rhaphiolepsis), which is a gorgeous glossy evergreen shrub that produces black berries in spring that morph into delicate pink blossoms, attracting bees and butterflies.
I have kept it pruned to a compact size as it is planted close to our driveway, but it can grow to about 1.5 metres high and about 1.5 metres wide. I have also seen it planted as a hedge and in full flower, it is majestic. A native of China, it can survive drought, grows in most soils, and is salttolerant so a goer for coastal gardens. It also looks great planted with other evergreens of varying hues.
Hedging favourite: Indian hawthorn is a member of the rose family, and a slow-tomoderate-growing evergreen, making it ideal for a hedge. The large glossy green leaves are resistant to leaf spot. It flowers best and has more dense growth in full sun, but will grow in partial shade. It needs watering regularly until the hedge is established and once so, is drought resistant and can tolerate poor soil and salt spray.
There are several colour and size varieties:standard, (Majestic or Umbellata); spreading (Enchantress or Snow White); or dwarf (Fascination, Clara, Ballerina, Rosea Dwarf, Pink Lady or Springtime).
While I welcome every bee I can muster for the garden, I can never resist picking flowers for the house. So my vase of Indian hawthorn blooms on the deck servery reminds me of country holidays past and tickles me pink in the present.