A well established, evidence-based, definitely not fake news fact about myself and Steve is that we are hopeless gardeners. Hopeless in so much as we plant, we water, we watch the growth and…we watch the demise. It just seems that no matter how hard we try, how carefully tended the plant might be, it seems to know it’s in the care of two horticultural dopes and gives up on life before it has to spend too much time with us. Case in point, we have even been unable to grow zucchinis. Yes, the crop that everyone has coming out their ears and can’t give away when the growing season hits, has even been a monumental fail with us…zip, zlich, zero zucchini on our withering vine of protest. We have been able to grow trees, although there was still a strikingly high death rate amongst them in order to be left with some survivors, but we focus on the win and at our previous house Steve managed to successfully turn our blank paddocks into something resembling a parkland, thanks to his diligence and determination. We also have a somewhat stunted, but still living lemon tree that’s hanging in there for us, so I guess we aren’t completely wall to wall failure. Generally though, we try to be carers and growers of plants and it just seems they’d rather go back to earth than stay with us.
So, it was with some extra sadness that we witnessed our latest plantings also gradually wither and brown and go the way of all the others, because these plantings meant something special. We lost our little dog Rosie last year at the grand age of 19, she the little loved one we had missed so much when we were away cycling about Europe and while she had a top life, there’s still a gaping hole because she’s no longer here. She was the last of our little trio of “fur children” and she is buried under a gum tree behind our house, where the little wrens visit to flutter about and bath and splash in the water we leave for them. Emm, our little miniature Fox Terrier and Jilly, our small (but rotund) Beagle, left us a few years ago at the ages of 15 and 16. So, when we buried Rosie, we decided to plant some native shrubs around her spot, to represent our loved and lost trio. We planted a small Boronia for Emm, with delicate little white flowers to represent her white coat and sensitive nature, a yellow Boronia for sandy coloured Rosie and a brown Boronia for the shades of brown on Jilly’s Beagle body. We planted, the Boronias grew, we watered, the Boronias grew, we watched, the Boronias… died. Grrrrrr. This was very frustrating and sad too, because one never wants to see a plant that’s grown to represent the passing of a loved pet, also pass away. Not what the plant is there for you bothersome Boronias! You are supposed to be a flourishing memorial not a testament to our blue, pink, purple or any other colour but green, thumbs! So, it was time to plant some replacements and try again. Enter the bikes.
We set off from the nearby city of Devonport to cycle along a path, through bush and beside the beach, to a nursery on the outskirts of town. A grey and chilly day for a ride but a peaceful bush lined path to pedal along.
We passed walkers and runners and cyclists and dog walkers, with everyone giving a cheery “hello”, “‘morning” or smile as we passed. A running club was out for their weekly event and we pedalled past groups of runners. I came behind a fella running alone from the pack, so I slowed down and drew alongside him.
“Looking good,” I said, “good form.”
“I don’t know about that,” he laughed.
“What’s your distance today?” I asked.
“Ten, with four to go.”
“You’re almost ready for that kick then,” I said, encouraging that final bit of speed towards the end.
He laughed and I waved and we ran and pedalled on respectively.
We wooshed down some hills on the path (they would have to be climbed up on the return!) and listened to the rude, mocking laughter of the kookaburras in the trees. C’mon now fellas, I know I’m not the most elegant of cyclists and I know my bike riding fashion sense leaves a lot to be desired, but quit with the laughing at me OK!
We heard a train whistle in the distance and knew we were nearing the railway where the steam trains were leaving for their short, sight seeing trip along the short section of coast. Trains have always been our nemesis when on our bikes. The few occasions on our travels when we had to get the bikes on and off trains, up steps and into spaces the size of an ungenerous cupboard, always left our heart rates somewhat elevated with the tension of the task. Not so today, just the tourist train, with its steam and whistle and olde worlde charm.
We came across a couple walking their little Chihuahuas in matching tartan coats (the dogs, not the couple) and one of the little dogs looked like it was about to have a coronary right there on the spot, at the sight of me.
I slowed down, “It’s all right poppet,” I said to the little quivering set of large ears and shocked eyes (again, the dog, not the couple!) in an attempt at being reassuring, “we’re not that scary.”
The lady laughed, “She’ll be right,” she assured me. I pedalled off, leaving the little body of quivering terror and trauma behind me (again, the dog…).
A further pedal and a bit of a puff up the hill to the nursery and then a slow turn into the driveway to park the bikes.
We walked into the veritable supermarket of flourishing greenery and I strolled about looking for some replacement Boronias to give it all another go. I spotted them and picked up a yellow and brown but couldn’t see any white, so I decided to look for an alternative. I wandered about the natives, where a man was putting more pots of plants out on to the racks, wearing a green outdoorsy, gardener sort of shirt with a logo that wasn’t the nursery’s, so I took him to be the supplier. He must have seen me wandering for a while because I suddenly heard behind me, “Are you right?”
I turned and smiled, “Yes thanks.” Then I thought again, I actually wasn’t right because I couldn’t find what I was looking for. “Actually,” I said, “do you know if there are any white Boronias?”
The man looked up through his dark sunglasses and scratched his beard, “Hmmmm, I don’t know if there are white Boronias…”
“We got one here last year, but it, um, didn’t survive. I’m looking for replacements,” I explained, sounding somewhat sheepish about the demise of the plants as I, the killer of plants, spoke to an obvious cultivator, nurturer and lover of the living green.
“Yeah, they are a bit short lived, they really should be called annuals,” he explained, as he reached out and began picking leaves off the plants in my hand. “Sorry, force of habit, if I took these home I’d be pinch pruning them like that to make ’em bush. Those ones there, no they don’t ‘ave a long life.”
This was actually music to my ears. The Boronias were short lived. SHORT lived! As in naturally supposed to not live long. Maybe it wasn’t us this time! Maybe the plants just did what they do and we weren’t the cause of their demise after all. I was feeling better. “Well, that’s good to know,” I said, “I need something that will last, so I’ll put these ones back.” Well, that set this very nice man off on a whirlwind of helpfulness interspersed with fluent Latin. He began taking me around the racks of native shrubs pointing out this and that.
“That’s a [insert incomprehensible to me Latin plant name] and that’s a [Latin something] it ‘as nice pink flowers and that one ‘as nice pink ones too.”
“Actually,” I said, “I need particular colours. I could tell you the story behind the colours but …”
I didn’t get to finish because he laughed and said, “It’s OK, I ‘ad a lady tell me once she would only ‘ave white and blue flowers in ‘er garden.”
“It’s not that so much,” I began to explain, it’s…” and I filled him in on the colour choice representing each of our dogs and where they would be planted.
“Right,” he said “well, there’s this one, it’s hardy as, really tough and it ‘as a yellow flower, but it might be a bit big, so this one…” Then that smiling, friendly, helpful man set about showing me around different plants, telling me about them and at one stage even disappearing back out to his truck to search for one he thought might be suitable, that he hadn’t yet unloaded. He then came to a yellow one and exclaimed with excitement, “‘Well, ‘ave a look at that one, I just remembered that one, it ‘as yellow flowers, but with a bit ‘o brown in the middle, ‘ow about that!” he beamed. “That ‘as two of yer colours in one!” and he gave my arm a friendly bat to add to the excitement of the discovery.
“Got two bases covered there,” I laughed.
We continued walking and talking and sharing our problems with persistent wallabies devouring plants and we chatted and he spoke and pointed and periodically, unconsciously pinch pruned a plant here and there. He picked up plants and talked about them and I listened and learned and we had a laugh about this and that. With his help I eventually chose a yellow native plant for Rosie, a small red Grevillea for Jilly (close enough to brown) and continued hunting for something with a white flower.
“Aw! I know!” my friendly teacher and jovial plant hunting buddy suddenly said with excitement, “‘ows about this one, it’s a [Latin again!], it ‘as nice little white flowers and it’s hardy as, tough as tough. I tell ya what, you can ‘ave that one for nothin’”
“No, no,” I replied putting up my hands.
“No, really,” he insisted, “you can ‘ave that one, it’s the last one and I’ll only throw it out and it’ll die, so you can ‘ave that one fer free. They’ll just credit it back to me, so it’ll be right. Just go in and ask fer Meaghan and tell ‘er Don said it’s OK.”
I thanked this man profusely, thanked him for educating me beautifully about a variety of native shrubs and thanked him for his generosity and I set off towards the exit and the counter.
“Oh, and…” I heard behind me as I was leaving, so I turned to see Don’s smiling, bearded face, “if they give you any problems about it, you tell ‘em Don’ll come and get ‘em!”
I laughed, thanked him again and walked away with images of a Mafiosa Don seeking reprisal for Meagan’s failure to come through with the goods on the free Latin foliage.
We loaded up the bike panniers with plants and began our pedal back through the bush and along the coast after another encounter with a wonderful person. These people are everywhere. The world is full of kindness. Full of people just ready to help or talk or laugh. We don’t hear enough about them. I’m so glad we’ve been able to meet so many of them. It reminds us that the world is good. It reminds us that people are good and kind and caring. We hear about trouble and strife on a daily basis and not enough about the kindness of strangers. The world is full of lovely, caring, helpful, wonderful people and we need to remember that, to push back against the continual flow of dark we are bombarded with so regularly and remember the light that is all the good, kind people in the world. Thanks Don, for the education, the chat and the laughs.
Now to the planting… the watering…the watching and, maybe this time…the growing and thriving. These ones have to grow because I’ve been reliably informed they’re “hardy as and tough as tough” and you don’t disappoint a Don!
Who are the friendly, kind strangers you’ve met? Or, can you be the friendly kind stranger for someone else?