>What my garden taught me


I have been privileged over the past 10 years to have lived with 2 beautiful gardens. The first one we created, building on some solid foundations and much of it out of blank space. The second one we inherited when we fled the city (partly to experience cold climate gardening) from 2 people who had been developing it for 19 years.

Gardens are a wonderful case of give and take. Apart from just the sensuous pleasures they grant in return for the efforts applied to them, I can see that my 2 gardens have taught me some important lessons in life.


We bought a beautiful crab apple tree. We had seen their spring show in other people’s gardens and had a place for one, right near the frangipani and in direct line of sight from where we sat on the deck, and even from the dining table. We planted it; it took just two days for the possums to discover that it was a delicious entree to their night’s foraging, and they munched the new growth, and broke branches by climbing on them to reach the higher foliage. Brigitte had read that you could discourage them by putting bamboo kebab skewers in the ground around the tree. She put about a hundred wickedly sharp skewers around the base of the crab apple, and then got worried about the dogs hurting themselves. It didn’t stop the possums anyway.

We moved the crab apple down into the Japanese garden, away from the possum route we hoped. I banged four stakes in the ground around it, and put bird proofing net around the stakes as a possum barrier. The poor little crab apple never recovered. By protecting it, we put a barrier between it and our capacity to nurture it.

We dug it out and gave it to Jenny, to plant in her garden in Leura. It is growing happily, and will put on a show in spring, I expect.

Sometimes, despite our expectations, some things are not meant to be in the way we plan them to be. Our efforts to make them be that way can sometimes work against any prospect of success. Sometimes the answer is to accept that a thing will not work out; to accept that gracefully and let it go without regret. That thing, like the crab apple, may just flourish somewhere else.


I was always fascinated, ever since I first saw them, by the row of cloud trees I used to see outside the Buddhist temple near the hotel in Tokyo where I frequently stayed. The ones where the branches are cultivated so there are tufts of foliage floating like clouds in a spring-time sky. They were junipers though, and pretty slow to grow in my experience.

I thought I could take a permissible short cut and try growing a cloud tree with lilly pilly. I bought one with an undefined mass of leaves and thought I’d go home and start trimming, see what would emerge.

Something held me back though; when I looked at the plant I saw nothing cloud-like at all. Instead of starting to chop and try and force a cloud to appear, I thought I could let it grow for a little while and see what developed. Over the next few months it was hard to keep the secateurs in my pocket. But after about 12 months my abstinence was rewarded. Three main branches were growing, in a lateral enough plane to stake one shoot out on each side and leave one central stem.

So far, I have a large bank of low cumulus cloud at the base of the cloud tree, and three puffs of cirrus floating above; a couple of higher clouds are in the process of forming if I can leave them to take shape. It wasn’t easy keeping the cutting implements away, and avoiding the intervention to force a result. But I reckon it’s been worth the wait.

More lessons to come next post.


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