It’s a small space, just ten metres by ten metres, approximately, of course, there’s no point being accurate about these things. Open the back door and you step into it, out there, a cast-iron doormat beneath your feet. To your left is a small nook, terracotta pots of geraniums beneath the bathroom windowsill, lattice covering the Colourbond fence, plastic terracotta half-pots screwed to the lattice (plastic only because real terracotta would be too heavy), some type of sedum clinging on for dear life in the pots. At the feet of the lattice is the narrowest of garden beds, bulbs emerging, grape hyacinth from memory. Also on your left is a Koppers-log shade structure covered in potato vine – smothered is a better word. It protects the kennel for The Old Lady of the House and Cat the Ripper’s food-and-water station.
But come up the path, do.
Now you’re in the guts of it, the cottage garden proper, though it’s winter so it’s looking worse for wear, it’s the frosts, and the wind, always the wind, because it’s relentless. On your left is a small veggie patch beneath the clothesline, the patch packed down with lucerne bought from the stockfeed supplier up the road, strawberry plants growing amongst it all. A timber bench at one end – it’s here that I drink coffee or tea, sit in the sun, watch the chooks, and let my brain empty. The chook run, painted deep red and a faded kind of light green to match the house, the roost half-covered in potato vine for shade in summer. A grey concrete stepping-stone path leading to the back gate; the gate’s flimsy so it’s secured with an old chain. And the single-car corrugated iron garage, though it’s more like a shed, no door, a lean to the whole thing but somehow it’s weatherproof.
Much of the space to your right is covered in lavender and rosemary, lamb’s ears, more bulbs coming through, daffodils I think, two standard roses (white), one has a lean to it, because of the wind. Another timber bench, this one I’ve had for thirteen years, one of the slats is broken so I don’t sit on the bench often, but it’s surrounded by a sparsely planted English box ‘hedge’. One day soon I’m going to buy a whole bunch of old bricks and pave the area beneath the bench and within the squared outline of the English box ‘hedge’, and probably put a small cast-iron urn on each side.
Speaking of cast-iron – even more cast-iron – there’s a cast-iron birdbath, it has an old-tractor-seat aesthetic, two cast-iron sparrows stuck onto the rim so they look like they’re drinking, but at this time of year they also look like they’re comatose with frost, so says He Who Notices These Things. Along the side fence, screening the neighbour’s yard, which is so filled with junk, even an old boat, that we call him Catweasel, or Weasel, or just Weaze, is an old fig tree, and a short run of wattles (I think they’re wattles), they too are windblown, and a Manchurian pear tree that will one day grow too big, too big for this space. A Chinese silk tree, bulbs beneath, more daffodils I seem to recall, but maybe bluebells as well. A low, old-brick wall. An old rusting watering can perched on a bush rock.
Between the old rusting watering can and the house is a small paved area, in the corners geraniums in pots, in the middle a timber outdoor setting, a white pot in the centre of the table, the pot overflowing with some kind of sedum that flourishes in Goulburn conditions. Sometimes I sit at the table and eat lunch, leftovers mostly, or eggs on toast, but I don’t sit there as often as originally envisaged, because of the mozzies that seem to love coming out from beneath the shade of the wattles.
Despite its small size, despite the fierce heat in summer and the frost in winter and the wind, always the wind, despite being fond of wearing black jeans, black T-shirts, listening to The Smiths and PJ Harvey records, despite loving a glass or three each evening, despite everything else I’ve put in my body, and done to my body, this space, this tiny tiny space, my garden, is where I love being. It’s my retreat, it’s my sanctuary. If I don’t spend at least an hour or two out there each week I unravel just a little bit (more).
Margaret Atwood said, ‘Gardening is not a rational act.’ So my garden is where I’m going now this post is done, and gardening is what I’m going to do. Drop over, drop in, have a cuppa and sit for a bit. Just make sure to bring a beanie, maybe gloves, perhaps even a scarf. And nothing – absolutely nothing – in your brain.
This post was inspired by a piece over at Broadside titled ‘Flowers and plants and shrubs – oh my!‘