Family branches everywhere

After receiving a delightful yarn from Brisbane friend Beez ( see comments) — about her 80-year-old neighbour giving her some “Zillie lily” cuttings whose ancestors she had taken from her Zillmere State School garden 70 odd years ago — I pondered how much of my garden was begged and borrowed from friends and family.

Beez said she felt privileged to be the recipient and historian of this lily descendant, subsequently uprooted by her elderly neighbour from her mother’s garden when she married 60 years ago, and planted in her first home plot, which she still tends today with her octogenarian husband. ( The Zillies have a botanical name but am waiting to have it verified. Watch this space )

Every picture tells a story. Every garden transplant has a sentimental trail that spurs living memories of its origins..

My four frangipani trees  come from snapped branches of our former home in Brisbane, a tree under which our babies slept and played; a climbing white bleeding heart vine that flowers and trails around the pool fence  was struck from part of a bouquet given to my daughter on her 18th birthday; my sun jewels and bromeliads started in another friend’s yard; our towering and spreading  paddock fig tree was a potted house-warming gift when we moved here 23 years ago; the gorgeous leopard tree that is home to our bird dynasty, came from an uncle who was going into a retirement village and didn’t want to plant his free council tree at a property he was selling.

Two perfumed gardenias have special places at our front entrance –  gifts from dear friends when my mother died.  The day they came, filled and planted out the pots, after which we toasted Mum’s life and their work with chilled bubbly, is etched deeply in my heart. The gardenias’ delicious blooms each year remind me what I have lost, but also what I have – thoughtful and  loving people who held me up and comforted me when I needed  it.

And so it goes. My tomatoes’ great-great-great-great-granddaddy came from a friend’s patch and was saved from the   scrap bin after we ate a Greek salad she brought one Sunday lunch visit. The papaws and bananas started on Stradbroke Island. The iris patch was snatched from up the road along a  neighbour’s driveway; the hippeastrums plucked from a friend’s trampled garden during house renovations.

I walk around my yard and have a photo album of past and present loved ones always at hand. Like a keeper of the flame, I tend their gifts and look forward to passing the torch on.

My friend Moya tells me the first thing she sees through her home office window each day is the row of  striped agaves she took from here for her fence line and the satisfaction it gives her defies description.  Even common old vinca and nasturtiums that spread a blaze of winter white and gold cheer across our lawns, are doing likewise now for friends who snaffled cuttings on visits here and I am told I’m in their thoughts when they do.

The whole philosophy of sharing is well watered with gardeners.

The ABC Gardening Australia programme is exploring this agenda more this year with soul and soil man Costa Georgiadis in the show presenter’s role. He has initiated an On the Verge project in his street, where neighbours cultivate footpath gardens as community meeting spots to swap plant knowledge and stories and just get together. He hopes to push the movement country-wide.


No one seconded  a warning I flagged last week about planting around the base of my old gum, where I moved  some agapanthus a few weeks back. With all the deluge, they seem to be taking root and gaining a good toehold. Fingers crossed. I have tied a showy orange orchid around the tree’s trunk to keep them company.


Subscriber Leafy Dreams was asking the Grapevine about what she could use to create a wall of green to hide a messy alley between sheds (see comments). I think the murrayas ( mock orange) are hard to beat —  fast growing, fragrant and hardy — or a callistemon cluster that will bring the birds, as will a row of lilly pilly ( Syzygium Cascade is a recommended variety as it doesn’t get the pesky distorted foliage).  If  it’s a semi-shady spot, try camelias. They need a bit of feeding and watering to get established, but the tougher new varieties are staunch and resilient. I have one that thrives with a regular dousing of our grey water sprinkler. I also love the spreading nature you can train bauhinias to adopt with judicious trimming.


Chrissie is seeking some topiary trimming wisdom. Hers are getting straggly. If you can add to this wisdom, reply to her comment. If they are expensive specimens, I would get a topiary expert in, I think. They are boutique plants and so need special shaping skill. It would be like the difference between me cutting my hair and my hairdresser. Pudding bowl or Prada style. Keep roses well fed with seasonal doses of blood and bone. That keeps them healthy and more likely to resist disease and pests.


5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    jane tims said,

    Hi. How nice to hear about gardening on what is, for me, a wintery day. I have a badly-tended garden full of many plants that came from friends and relatives. I always think about their origins as I walk around. I say to myself, there is Grampy’s Creeping Jenny, or there is the rhubarb my sister dug for me. I love your line “keep roses well fed with seasonal doses of blood and bone”… it must be the poet in me… Jane

    • 2

      Thanks Jane. I’d love to know what a creeping Jenny looks like. Makes me think of a spinning Jenny, the first loom invented by Hargreaves.

      Alas, the poetry of blood and bone is not mine. It’s not a metaphor for hard work and perspiration in the patch. It’s a crushed and powdered product from abbatoirs that makes great garden feed. Unfortunately, dogs also love it and dig madly in it, smelling a bone nearby. So, I try to bury it under a layer of mulch.

  2. 3

    Liz said,

    Julie, I just loved the stories about your garden’s origins. I have planted a bleeding heart in almost every garden I have had because it brings back memories of my grandmother, born 1895, who had a little bit of everything in her garden at Mackay. As a five-year-old I used to walk past her house to get to school (accompanied by my seven-year-old brother) and she would reach across the fence and hand me a bunch of newly picked roses, wrapped in newspaper, for my teacher. Time and again she would tell me how much she disliked dried flower arrangements, which were quite in vogue in the 1960s. She didn’t like dead flowers, only living ones, she would say. I second that. Liz

  3. 4

    peagreen said,

    I loved reading your “family branches” Jules. My garden also does not belong to me but rather it’s a hybrid of many regions from Far North Queensland to the Southern Highlands of NSW and many places in between. But I nurture it for the joy, beauty and peace it brings me and the knowledge that behind every plant or tree there is a another story.
    My interest in gardening comes from my 80-year-old mum – a green thumb if ever there was one. She visits every year from Newcastle (bearing cuttings collected from goodness knows where) and our day is not complete without a walk around our neighbourhood, or wherever we may be visiting in the southeast region.
    I enjoy those times immensely, as her knowledge of species is vast. And I love that she stops to “smell the roses”, as it were, as she admires or comments on gardens we see, and educating me in the process. We invariably return home with pockets full of dropped seeds or pods, some of which I’ve been successful in propagating here and mum equally so back in Newcastle.
    Sadly, I have two sons who have about as much interest in gardening as I have in motorsports. But I’m hopeful that my 6-month-old granddaughter (Indianna Rose) will join me one day as I too take daily walks around the neighbourhood and she’ll be inspired to find out about the majesty and beauty of what is her middle name, and that’ll just be the beginning of the love affair.

  4. 5

    Joy, beauty and peace; can’t think of better reasons to garden, peagreen, and how lucky are you to have a Mum with such love and interest in plants, gardens and growing them wherever she visits. Funny about where and how we get interest in gardening; I didn’t have gardening parents. I recall my father loving and growing roses, but I thought gardening was “weeding” when I was a kid – Oh, and my mother’s screams when dad would drop a wriggling earthworm down the back of her dress. Hope your little Indianna Rose blooms into a green thumb with her nana.

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