Yet another shake-up. Will I ever be left alone to dwell in a chubby, buffered comfort zone? I’d barely regained my balance after being knocked for six in the gardens of the Marlborough region of NZ. So I’m just back from speaking in Brisbane, accompanied by a visit to half-a-dozen or so gardens there and on the Sunshine Coast that left me feeling totally beached, like I’d gone back to square one in my excruciating, torturous accumulation of plant confidence, and was faced with the challenge of starting over.
There is, of course, the sheer joy of seeing plants for the first time, whether brilliant or bizarre, spectacular or subtle, but my brain can’t help but immediately start to work at how I’d use such plants – how I’d integrate them into the overall picture, which to me as a designer is more important than any particular plant element in it (with a few notable plant exceptions like Galanthus, which transcend any such prosaic considerations.)
Being from the wet- tropics, most of the unfamiliar plants were woody. Rainforest isn’t home to many annuals, nor perennials as cooler climate gardeners know them. And for me, having more woody plants to choose from is not better. All I really want is a few of the best of them to place very carefully, and use repeatedly, basically for structural purposes. Their flowers are just a bonus. Every new plant got a minute or two (more like a few seconds) of the joy of first meeting, but what followed immediately and involuntarily was a too-rapid and ill-informed evaluation – ‘if I gardened up here, would you make it into my garden?’
Then, beyond the rattling that the plants provided were the gardens themselves. I can’t make up my mind whether they’re deeply different to what we know down south, or if they’re only superficially different, but sufficiently so that the framework within which I normally view and evaluate a garden is dismantled.
At least two of them were far ‘deeper’ than virtually any gardens I know down here, due to the size, density and verdancy of the surrounding trees. Lawn spaces had and almost well-like quality. My brain just couldn’t process them in the normal way.
So it was a joy and a stress in equal measure. But bring it on. There’s no better way to clear away the smugness, pride and plant prejudice that accumulates in the familiarity of your home-climate.
(With many thanks to the garden owners Barb and Rex Wickes, Leonie and Terry Kearney, Cheryl Boyd and Jenny and Allister Inch (though my pics of their lovely garden were a total wash-out, due to a heavy (and highly enviable) tropical downpour)