Ten years ago when my children were little I lived far from any beaten track in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. I kept goats that were named after my daughter’s kinder friends, a rooster called Vronsky and a crowd of chooks.
Ten years ago when my children were little I lived far from any beaten track in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. I kept goats that were named after my daughter’s kinder friends, a rooster called Vronsky and a crowd of chooks. It was a time of almost self-sufficiency. It was not idyllic. There were tough times, and great sadness as well as the joy of watching my babies grow. It was intense. What kept me sane was watching the chooks, and fooling around with my giant vegetable patch. I had no fewer than three compost heaps – proof of humble resurrection, and the triumph of life over death. That season of life came to an end, and we moved to the inner city. I have missed gardening, and the gardening column I used to write. It ran for years in the Weekend Australian, then in Sunday Life magazine. Over the years since then, various commentators have suggested that my views on media and politics are to be taken less seriously because I once wrote about compost, vegetables and chooks. One is a serious journalist, or a gardener. Not both. Well, bollocks to that. The inner city suits me and my teenagers, but last year, as life once again grew particularly intense, I found myself thinking that when I retired I would return to gardening. Then I thought ‘why wait?’. There are a few reasons. I have only a tiny bit of space at my little house, which backs on to a McDonald’s fast food restaurant. At the front, my house faces a post office staffed by heroic women who deal with all the joys and stresses of the suburb, speaking to people of all nations as they navigate paying of bills, the making of deposits and passport applications, and that basic act of citizenry, joining the electoral roll. At the back I have a brick-paved space six metres square with two raised garden beds, one almost entirely in shade. At the front is a tiny strip one metre by four, divided between nutritionally challenged ornamentals and the beginnings of a vegetable patch, including a rampant grafted tomato. I planted it the same weekend that I decided the time for gardening was now, not in some future imagined period of sunshine and leisure. Now, each morning before I rouse the children from bed and walk the ancient Labrador, I engage in a ritual I laughingly refer to as “walking the grounds”. I pick the tomatoes that have ripened. I climb a stepladder to view the four polystyrene boxes on the roof, which are filled with coriander, bok choy, spring onions and a cucumber setting tiny fingers of fruit. I contemplate the pots on the verandah, and observe the fall of shadow in the back lane between me and McDonald’s, and consider whether anything would grow there. Inner suburbs being what they are, I also check whether the rat bait has been taken. Over the last few weeks, I have decided I want to write about this again – the everyday miracles and failures of messy old gardening. Some terms of engagement. I am an enthusiast, not an expert. I get depressed by gardening books that talk counsels of perfection. I have never in my life achieved a fine tilth. I have never clipped my edges. Things often die under my care. This column will not be a how-to. It will talk about rat bait as well as fresh lettuce, about the things that die as well as those that live. It will be ridiculous, because life is ridiculous and gardening in such a tiny space most certainly seems that way. Yet “walking the grounds” each morning makes me unreasonably happy. I am grateful for the chance to share some that. Margaret Simons is a freelance journalist, writer and academic margaretsimons.com.au twitter.com/margaretsimons