YOU can always pick gardeners on holidays. They have these funny habits they indulge when they are away from their familiar terrain. I speak both of my own behaviour and from watching fellow flora enthusiasts.

On our recent interstate holiday, for example in Perth, Western Australia,  I felt I was in a very different topography.

I only had to look down to know this. Well, look down and scratch around. The soil, you see, is so different from our own heavy clay. It is sandy. Like the whole city is built on a big beach.

And once I’d discovered this,  I couldn’t avoid crouching down at every opportunity to check how far within the state this sandy loam extended. And I would lock eyes with people watching and nodding who shared and endorsed my curiosity – and soiled hands. Like me, they were the ones turning away from capturing panoramic views to focus their cameras on bark patterns, leaf formations and flower petals.

While most city visitors were looking at towering skyscrapers, the wide beauty of the Swan River and the impressive watercraft, I was looking down, marvelling at the plant life the sand supported, and how quickly rainwater seeped away, with hardly a trace of it lying about minutes after a heavy downpour, unlike our boggy mud that persists for days in wet weather. I was fingering new foliage, sniffing new flowers, running my hands along unfamiliar tree limbs and gazing up through strange and lovely canopies.

If I stumbled over a botanical name or gushed over an impressive foliage, and an onlooker corrected me kindly or joined my enthusiasm, I knew why.

That’s what gardeners do.

Perth’s magnificent King’s Park is a joy for any gardener to savour, incidentally, not just for its magnificent position overlooking the city, its wonderful and sombre memorials, gracious entrance avenue of lemon-scented gums, poignant war remembrance trees honouring fallen servicemen and women and gorgeous wildflower displays, but also for the riding and walking pathways, the viewing and doing experiences and sweeping outlook it offers for those who don’t give a toss about gardens and plants.

Magnificent WA red flowering gum

Magnificent WA red flowering gum

Blossom on WA scarlet flowering gum ( corymbia ficifolia)

Blossom on WA scarlet flowering gum ( corymbia ficifolia)

Vive le difference when it comes to appreciating new landscapes. The WA eucalypts tend to the dramatic, from the towering ghost gums, stately salmon gums ( eucalyptus salmonophloia) with smooth trunks that shine like

Copper trunks of salmon gum trees

Copper trunks of salmon gum trees

polished copper and the dazzling scarlet flowering gum (corymbia ficifolia) in full bloom that stops you in your tracks.

Sand bottlebrush in Kings Park, Perth

Sand bottlebrush in Kings Park, Perth

I lost count of the different, wonderful and brilliant grevilleas, and drawn to one especially dazzling prostrate variety, called sand bottlebrush (beaufortia squarrosa) . It’s a glorious flame red and with the backdrop of  the singularly wide blue WA sky, the palette is one that has you grasping for superlatives.

But,  as I was saying, gardeners have a different way of looking at the world.

In Christchurch, the earthquake destruction, slow recovery, road closure disruption and ongoing fear of more shakes makes life for the city’s population hazardous and grim.

But a gardener’s sense of humour shines through.

A friend send me a heroic little image of a bunch of flowers recently poked into a road bollard. Whatever ugliness the road reconstruction works prolong for the residents of the city, known traditionally as the garden capital of NZ, someone is determined to see the ubiquitous and ungainly roadblock items as vases and beautify the scene accordingly.

Christchurch road bollard beauty

Christchurch road bollard beauty

What grace and wit it shows. It says to me: Hey, nothing is so barren and broken, it cannot be brightened by the sharing of the loveliness of a flower. Nature is both brutal and beautiful.

Blooming roadworks in battered Christchurch

Blooming roadworks in battered Christchurch

That’s what gardeners do.

But closer to home, a visit to a local country cottage cafe, set in a pretty sprawling garden, planted out with annuals, natives, palms and significant herbs, found cracks in the theory.

On a quiet mid-week visit, when we were the only guests, after spending a considerable amount of money and time with the owner/gardener over lunch and then an admiring  walk around all her hard work, asking about the what and where of some of the plant varieties, I thought we were doing the bonding thing you do when you share garden talk. So I asked if I could have a small cutting of a specimen I didn’t know, but particularly admired.

A firm “no” was her response. Seems I would set a dreadful precedent if she allowed me  ( ” everyone would want to take some”), despite there being not a soul within cooee of the place.

Unidentified ground cover plant,  but not for sharing

Unidentified ground cover plant, but not for sharing

Alas,  she was not a sharer. All she let me take was a photo ( perhaps someone can identify it?).

That’s NOT what gardeners do.

Is it?


9 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Catherine said,

    Yes, there are defintely some gardeners who are more like ‘guardeners’ – they are very territorial and possessive of their plants. Like you, I can’t imagine a greater compliment or pleasure in being asked to share something I grow.

  2. 2

    Catherine said,

    And forgot to say I think the lovely (and unshared) groundcover plant is Ajania pacifica

  3. 3

    Thanks Catherine. Love your clever pun. And have noted the plant name. In the meanwhile, a friend who grows it has just generously offered to give me some cuttings. SHE’S a gardener!!!!

  4. 4

    Silvana said,

    Julie – your blog is very timely as Rob and I have been taking note of the differing landscape between the cold climate of New York and now the Arizona desert. While here the cactus is the predominant feature they are still quite lovely when you see them en masse and you realise how old they must be. The limbs or arms do not start to sprout until the plant is at least 75-100 years old – so imagine those that have about 4 or 5. I’d love to be here when they flower.

    As for your ‘guardener’ (LOL spellcheck wants to change it to ‘gardener’) it’s like the cook who won’t share a recipe – it’s just not done.
    I’m sure my mum has that ground cover in her garden and she will love to share it with you. I’ll bring a cutting next time I see you, which is not long after I get back I think.

  5. 5

    Thank you dear Sil. Will be glad to receive your kind offer. Another true gardener. Yes, I have met some cooks who are of same mindset.
    The Arizona landscape looks startling. Brings to mind all those cowboy movies of our childhood with Mexicans resting at the feet of the cactus ( cactii).

  6. 6

    Love the term “Guardener” lol! Maybe its hard to grow! Just kidding! There are people like that even gardeners. hehe. For me i wouldn’t mind!


  7. 7

    Christine Bradshaw said,

    Hi Julie,slowly getting around your site!!Loved the fact someone identified the ground cover was going to try & put a name to it myself !!Have been around a National Trust garden today all the Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Magnolias stunning with Daffs still flowering & amongst them Ranunculus ficafia a beautiful wild flower ( lesser celandine )However I seem to be attracted to Euphorbias – Polychroma (cushion spurge ) this had a slight resemblance to your mystery plant!!!! Chris UK

    • 8

      Thanks Chris. It does have a resemblance to the polychroma. Now that’s a happy little number and wd be gorgeous in a border. Had me thinking about what colours you could put with such a bright yellow flower. Mauve? White? You have me green with envy when you speak of ranunculas and rhododendrons.
      I remember visiting Kinross Abbey in County Kerry Ireland 30 years ago and drooling over the rhododendrons there – blooms as big as a dinner plate

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