One day I 'got' a garden

Well over a decade ago the Horticultural Media Association in NSW asked me to contribute to a kind of debate called ‘Gardens of the Future will have no plants’.  The timing was perfect, as Leo Schofield had recently passed on to me an article from a US newspaper about a garden made entirely of plastic plants.  In this garden, the plastic wisteria had plastic flowers added and then removed, in season.  I called the store that supplied the plants, and it was extraordinary how many different kinds were available “thirty two different hydrangeas at all stages of growth” they boasted.  I asked about lavender “Oh ‘erbs? you want ‘erbs? We have hundreds of different ‘erbs’!”

Anyway, I’d only just seen a TV debate in which Philip Adams had presented his argument in rhyme, so I thought I’d try the same thing.  I wrote it, presented it, then lost it for about a decade (computer crash, followed ten years later by the chance discovery of a back-up disc).

Below is the first half. It sets up the argument by presenting two different theoretical gardens, one I had done for me by a designer, and the other I made for myself.  For the sake of historical context, the ‘cool’ things of the day were crushed glass as mulch and ponds bobbing with chrome balls. The mags were full of nothing (so it seemed) other than smart minimalist courtyards, containing a very small number of bullet-proof super-static plants, with absolutely no seasonal response.  The horticulture industry was genuinely concerned about the future of real, live, growing plants.

The second half has a spray at the media, and challenges it to show some leadership. I’ll publish that soon, if anyone’s interested. Apologies for what appears to be double spacing.  This template just does that automatically when I hit the return key.

Anyway, this half will take you about four minutes to read (which is a long time when you’re reading poetry (rhymes, really.  One can hardly call it poetry!)).  

One day I got a garden

Or rather, had it ‘done’

Which in the passing weeks inspired

Gasps from everyone

Twas a sort of prefab. courtyard

With pebbles, stone and box

And a fabulous water feature

Running over natural rocks

The water dribbled down to form

a shimmering, liquid wall,

and at its feet was bobbing

a shiny, silver ball

The paving was superlative

No mortar – just blue, crushed glass

And into that was planted

Plugs of full-gown mondo grass

There was a token plant or two

With flowers quite fantastic

But when I went to smell them

Found that they were made of plastic

‘What will they think of next?’ I cried

‘How very, very clever,

to come up with such wondrous ways

to make flowers last for ever!’

The months went by, revealing soon

The brilliant designers reason

For choosing such a static scheme –

One didn’t know the season

Autumn, winter, summer, spring

Were all the same to me

And furthermore, we’d hit a scheme

That was nearly maintenance free

The only thing that spoiled it was

That two days out of three

I had to sweep the pesky leaves

From next door’s real, live tree

But I sat, and sat and sat some more

Enjoying my new found leisure

By every modern standard

it was quintessential pleasure

Several seasons past (or I think they did)

When a small change had me jaded

In my slick and smart exterior room

My plastic flowers had faded!

They were replaced – on warranty

The supplier thought it strange

And absolutely guaranteed

There would be no further change

And nor there was, the garden stayed

Just as it was designed

And to this stasis I became

Quite ignorantly resigned

When neighbours whinged of blackbirds

Spreading mulch about the place

I smirked, just quietly to myself

And feigned a caring face

For birds and butterflies for me

Were things of long ago

Like hanging baskets, real live plants

And other things that grow

The next doors cat became

my only source of natural history

but why it came to visit

was a bit of a mystery

Until I got a vet bill

Which I thought was rather rotten

It seems it was pooing in my glass

And sustained a lacerated bottom

But enough! I think I’d better not

continue with this lie, as

If I’m not careful, I’ll reveal

My carefully guarded bias

One year I grew a garden

(though that only got it started)

And when I think of all the work

I swoon, and feel faint-hearted

For I had to dig til my old back ached

And barrow compost by the load

And then I had to dig that in,

I wouldn’t have started, had I know’d.

And despite the huge amount of work

My friends did mock and jeer

They laughed at all my efforts

And cracked open another beer

Eventually, after months it seemed

Of straining to the limit

I started to plant, but this best-fun part

Was over in a minute

I stood right back to admire the result

And though I’d like to have said

That I felt a deep satisfaction

I didn’t – I just went straight to bed

Funny thing was, I couldn’t stay away

I wanted to water, feed and fiddle

Some plants went forward, some went back

And some stayed in the middle

From all the fun and frustration I saw

That I hadn’t had any notion

That as diverse as the results could be

Was the consequent emotion

One minute nature was my friend

The next – my enemy

But at either time, whether friend or foe

She was always plain to see

And not just see, she was there to touch

And often to hear as well

I tasted her in my salad mix

And learned to know her smell

She was there in the richest floral scents

That passed through, fleetingly

She was there in the rotting, decomposing smells

That I learned to like, surprisingly

There was a certain pain caused by

The rate things went and came

But this was balanced by the fun

Of it never being quite the same

After several years I sat in the shade

Of my very first, half-grown tree

And instead of pride in what I’d achieved

Was quieted with humility

Was a strange sensation, having set out

Never knowing I would see

That having begun this process, I was just part

Of something far bigger than me


  1. Love it Michael. Well I love both. All sort of existential angst issues racketing in amongst those lines.

    Cheers, Marcus

  2. while reading your description of your “designer” garden I could only think it sounded not unlike a cemetery to some degree – both places of death, sadness and plastic flowers. So glad you discovered the real joys of life in the garden!

  3. Very amusing, especially as I finished reading “Michael McCoy’s Garden” only last night. Now I know your voice as well. Looking forward to 1 May even more.

  4. I love how your poem encapulates our utter devotion to a fashion when it’s ‘in’ .. I’m sure I would have loved some glass mulch and a chrome ball with all my heart back in the day but now ewww… Just as we have been forced to reconsider all manner of plants.. can’t wait to see what’s ‘in’ next. Glad your computer decided to cooperate, what a blast!

  5. You gave me a great laugh when I was reading this. It reminded me, of me, the other day. I decided to make a fairy garden in the bottom of an old fiberglass shower botton. Real plants, a fake one and of course ornamentation. I thought I had lost the plot but continued on as it was for my grandchildren and disabled daughter. It was worth it when I finished. My husband came for a look and was wordless but he did have a big smile on his face. My daughter loved it as well. Grandkids reaction I am still to see.
    The other poem I loved as well. Gardening is a love of mine and my husbands. When we suffer a garden injury or like this week find scale invading some plants we wonder why. But not for long.
    Friends come to visit and admire but prefer to go back to their beers and paving. They have not worked it out yet. There is so much to apprecaite in a garden. Connecting to nature has opened my eyes to things I use to take for granted and did not really see.
    Loved the poems and love reading the Gardenest.
    June Geaghan
    Australian Garden Enthusiasts (FB)

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