The Space Between Years

There’s a small important gap between the end of one year and the start of the next but I can only find it if I am alone.  This week my days off landed on the 31st and the 1st.  I spent the daylight hours entirely in the garden in solitude, drifting unhurriedly between tasks, collating the year’s stats in my head whilst hands were busy.  It was restful and quite rejuvenating and despite the lack of holidays (sniff) I am feeling fresh at the start line for 2015.

Every gardener knows this special kind of pottering joy – unstructured time, no lists, all observatory powers in effect and at the end of the day, something achieved.  I spent an hour squishing sap-sucking psyllids off a young Acacia Leprosa ‘Scarlet Blaze’ (the only wattle with red flowers and a beauty native to Victoria).  I watered the apples and pears. Mulched things.  Staked stuff.  Netted the young apricots and plums.  In fact four days on I can’t really remember exactly what I did, but I did more of the same this morning. The default activity these days is gardening, which has me wondering what the hell I did in the years prior to age 30 when I didn’t have a garden, or indeed 50 acres, to play in.

This is new:

Herb Garden

Herb Garden

 

This is where the hours go.  Those rocks took some lugging.  I rolled them up the hill, where they’d been sitting under a tree (leftovers from building the terrace).  I spent some money on soil and transplanted all my herbs from their old concrete pots.  Lovely crusty pots are pretty but impractical in summer when they dry out in an hour.  At the moment the herb garden sits adrift on my front lawn (sic) but it’s stage one of phase 14b of the development of the garden and will have a reference when I find 20 cubic tonnes of clean fill and level out a seating area and make a path between that and the herbs. Meanwhile, the basil is thriving and the rosemary died inexplicably and the parsley seedlings fight on.

The other day I was listening to 87-year-old horticulturist Peter Cundall (“when I kick the bucket, they can just shove me in the nearest compost heap so I’ll still be working”) talking about what gardening does for war veterans.  He is one himself.  Amongst many other benefits, it’s the surety of the seasons and the predictability of the plant-grow-harvest cycle that brings a sense of peace, safety and optimism to those who have fought in wars.

This sentiment is beautiful.  Every gardener knows that the soil heals and sorts your head out.  And the predictability of the growing cycle is spiced up by the vagaries of the weather, and no two years are exactly the same – the acceptance of this handily increases your resilience and mental flexibility.  Your 110 olive trees will be lovingly descaled by hand and then defoliated a week later by grasshoppers.  Your carefully planted rare trees will be denuded by rabbits.  The garlic harvest is not as bountiful as last year (more on that later.)  But it’s okay because the tomatoes are going gangbusters.  The ornamentals are thriving.  And the cucumbers, in a turnaround from last year, seem impervious to the 40 degree heat.

26 Tomatoes (and Other Stuff)

26 Tomatoes (and Other Stuff)

 

While I was taking this photo today my neighbour’s father arrived to help his son with some renovations.  He sold my property to me (reluctantly, as it had been in the family for generations) and we got chatting about the tomatoes.  Yandoit is dry, dry, dry at the moment and the opposite of lush.  But the slope on which I made my vegetable garden continues to produce beautifully.  I have spent a lot of time improving the soil, but even still…  Noel told me today that the bulls were kept in this paddock and it was also often used as a night hold for the dairy cows.  Fertilised over many decades. How lucky then I happened to choose this particular patch for veggies (or rather, it chose itself – north facing, already fenced and close to the house – ideal.)

San Marzano in Clay

San Marzano in Clay

 

San Marzano plum tomatoes are the business for bottling.  They’ve been designated as the only tomato allowed on a pizza Napoletana (strict!  love Italians).  It’s early days but I see a lot of flowers – I guess we’ll have to see how the season progresses but I’m hopeful.  And I have the clay to thank.

In amongst the jobs, the watering, the tidying, there is the hammock.  The breath between one year and the next is made more spacious by lying down, looking up. And that’s going to happen next. Happy new year to you.  May your garden grow.

Hammock Time

Hammock Time

 

p.s. 12 years ago I didn’t really know gardens existed and I didn’t allow plants inside because they were dirty.  I still kill indoor plants despite all efforts.  If you don’t like gardening yet don’t worry, it will get you in the end.

Things Grow

And then they struggle.  This is gardening in a country ablaze.  Not that I’ve had a fire at my door, but a fast-moving 60 hectare grass fire did come within 5km on New Year’s Eve and that was close enough.  January has been full of days above 30 celsius and we’ve had about 40mm of rain locally in the past four or so months.  Not the time to establish a hedge, vegetable garden or trees, all of which I’ve pigheadedly attempted.

The only two apps I use at the moment are the Country Fire Authority and weather.  It’s all about watching stats, worrying about wind direction, hoping for rain.  Every photo I take in the harsh sun looks overexposed and my feet are taking on hobbit hoariness after hours in the garden.

Having said all of that, it’s not completely grim.  The beehive that my neighbour Terry put on the front lawn is doing really well (despite lack of rain, the heat and not much food about).  I’m eating a lot of ice cream and swimming in dams.  The colour in the landscape is really beautiful.

Layer Cake

Layer Cake

I’ve just polished off a giant bowl of spaghetti with garlic and basil from the garden.  I’m eating radishes and spinach and eyeing up the spring onions.  I have to keep reminding myself that this is the first gardening season of many and I shouldn’t expect too much, better to savour the little edible victories and keep observing and learning.

I have learnt that every job in a garden this size is huge.  New beds means getting in the tractor and rotary hoe (and, let’s be honest, Pepe to do the heavy work).  Planting a hedge seems to take months.  A while ago now I dug 30+ holes for a feijoa hedge along the northern boundary and returning to plant just recently I got all boot camp on it and was out digging at 6am many mornings in a row.  They’re surviving well so far with a fantastically extravagant weekly bucket-watering regime.

The choice of plant is a hopeful experiment, an ode to my NZ childhood.  And I figure if Gerhard and Bern’s have survived for 20 years around the corner then I’ve got a chance here.  The wire protection keeps most kangaroos and rabbits out – save the odd clumsy ‘roo that catches a paw and squashes the damn thing (one shrub lost so far.)

Mass Feijoa Planting

Mass Feijoa Planting

I waited until we got bunny-proof fencing in place to start planting veggies.  So full of promise in September, the fenced area is now unquestionably tanned.

Lush After a Wet Winter

Lush After a Wet Winter

Brown and Proud

Brown and Proud

I’m giving a go raspberries, gooseberries, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, jerusalem artichokes, radishes, spinach, beans, lettuces, spring onions, leeks, cucumbers, a few types of melon & pumpkin, and all sorts of herbs.  The most successful crop so far? Sunflowers.  Ha!  Well at least the bees are happy.

Where Once Was Garlic

Where Once Was Garlic

Now Are Sunflowers (Sheltering Lettuces)

Now Are Sunflowers (Sheltering Lettuces)

When I asked my neighbour and fellow gardening enthusiast Claire what she did in the evenings she said “kids to bed, a cider and two hours of watering.”  I get it.  Years of gardening in the Melbourne suburbs had me a bit smug about my green thumb and now the climate and soil are slapping me in the face.  With just a few plants in the ground I’d rather keep my babies alive with a spend of $170 on 12,000 litres of water than go out to dinner or buy a dress.  Not that I’ve had to buy water yet, but in these next few establishment years I doubt I’d hesitate if the need arose.  For now I’ve got a 52,000lt capacity and apart from keeping the new plants moist Brie and I are frugal as hell. It must be said we’re getting a bit dirty.

Tough Dirty Times

Tough Dirty Times

Demand Tough Dirty Moves

Demand Tough Dirty Moves