When we built the house here just over 10 years ago, we didn’t plan for a garden because I thought (quite rightly) that it would require too much work and I intended to use the country as an escape from all that. Our garden in Durban had a chequered history. When we bought the house it was very tropical; lots of large-leafed plants, heliconias, crotons, bougainvilleas and palms. At first, I took no interest in it and left it up to my mum to take care of. However, when I gave up working and became more domesticated , I did a couple of landscaping courses; I took over the care of our back yard and started spending a lot of time and money in garden centres and visiting open gardens. One of them was the garden of an emerging landscape designer (Jan) and I fell in love with the formal style of it. In a fit of madness I commissioned him to turn our small back garden into something similar; lots of hedges, repetitive use of a small selection of small-leafed plants, a formal water feature and extensive use of paving.
Just as everything was starting to take shape, a rather large sink hole appeared at the bottom of the garden. The municipality came in, dug a dirty great big hole to fix one of their pipes that had sprung a leak and, in doing so, made a bloody awful mess. The garden and I never quite recovered from that. I phoned Jan to ask if he could fix it but, unfortunately for me, he had since established quite a reputation for himself and my backyard could not compete with his larger projects. I had to try and sort out the mess myself but, I have to confess, my heart was never in it. When I look at photos of the garden now, I kinda prefer the garden pre-Jan.
In hindsight, I suppose that I didn’t have the will to sort out the Durban garden because I had in the meantime been seduced into creating one at the farm, surprise, surprise! In fact, because of my city mentality, I made a rod to break my back by creating a whole lot of small gardens, until Kiera suggested that I merge them all to make a more unified look and less work. This is what I’ve been trying to do ever since. I only hope that I don’t look at photos of the farm in years to come and prefer it pre-me!
I’m reminded of my childhood when I’m gardening. We kids would play outdoors for hours on end, getting sweaty and dirty (and lots of thorns in our bare feet) and, before you knew it, it was getting dark and you were being called indoors to bath. We never went in on the first call; all the kids in Woodville Road would call out to their mothers that they were coming but it was only when we were threatened with a “clip around the lughole” that we reluctantly dragged ourselves away from our games and went inside. There’s no better feeling than getting into bed body-weary from playing in the garden and content from listening to “earth-songs” and knowing that, for a brief moment, all was as it was meant to be.
And all the times I was picking up potatoes, I did have conversations with them. Too, I did have thinks of all their growing days there in the ground, and all the things they did hear. Earth-voices are glad voices, and earth-songs come up from the ground through the plants; and in their flowering, and in the days before these days are come, they do tell the earth-songs to the wind … I have thinks these potatoes growing here did have knowings of star-songs.
Opel Whiteley, 8 years of age, The Singing Creek where the Willows Grow – The Mystical Nature Diary of Opal Whiteley, Penguin, 1994.
P.S. Thanks Lex for introducing me to Susan Tedeschi’s music.