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