Backyard archaeology

Garden makeovers: love them.  Love hastily manufacturing a bespoke bamboo and zip-tie trellis in a frenzy of blunt rip saws and blisters.  Love labouring over a shovel to extract every last tuber of noxious, flourishing ginger lily.  Love spending all my discretionary money for the fortnight, and then some, on more plants that will feasibly fit in the boot of the car and planting them all in a rush, surveying them afterwards, faintly guilty but sated, with a hosepipe in my hand.

But sometimes there’s a hint that all these things – all the plans hatched on the backs of envelopes while nodding away to some background conversation, all the cruising of plant catalogues, all the impulse buys on a Sunday – have happened before.

A while back, with great effort, we moved some of the large barrels along the side of the granny flat a couple of metres down the hill into the sun, so we could plant them up with some figs – White Genoa and White Adriatic, since you are asking.  Where they had been, under a layer of soil and detritus, was a large tarpaulin, threaded through with roots and looking the worse for wear.  Shrugging, I pulled it up, tidied a bit and installed a trellis (an early “blue period” effort) along with a grafted Nellie Kelly black passionfruit vine.  The aim was to protect the granny flat, a fibro hotbox, from the westerly summer sun, and if the possums were slow on the uptake, get some fruit.

trellis 1Nellie swarmed up the trellis and onto the roof in no time, though I did start to notice some vigorous vines with  dull green leaves, three-lobed like the passionfruit, appearing amongst the mass of creepers over the garden wall nearby.  Did they look a little familiar?  Had I seen them before?  I pulled up a few and didn’t think too much about it.

Three years on, Nellie has done nothing fruit-wise and hasn’t even flowered much, which might say something about the cruelty to plants inflicted by a largely organic but also veggo gardener who has qualms about blood and bone.  That said, the dark-green vine hasn’t minded one bit, and has appeared everywhere in the garden, threading its way through the wallaby grass, swarming up the fig trees, and, during our tip away, anchoring the bamboo garden gate to the ground.  My “wait and see” weeding philosophy has spawned a tribe of voracious suckers from the root-stock passiflora caerula.  A beginners’ error, I have realised, after some research, especially on Hawkesbury sandstone.

Nellie’s got to go.  The plant and its Mr Hyde companion vine, almost as large, are summarily executed.  In a surprisingly short time, the contents of half a black passionfruit emptied into in a pot of seed-raising mix on the windowsill has germinated, despite predictions that it might take months.  Once the corpse of Nellie has been disposed of, one or two of these babies will replace her, and will hopefully survive the root rots to which the non-graft fruit are apparently prone.

I’ve clocked, of course, what that tarpaulin was all about.  Someone who lived here before, that person who we’ve often cursed for planting huge stands of reportable weeds and using only two screws in all the door hinges, made the same mistake.  Someone before me, on a whim, probably at Bunnings, bought one of Nellie’s clone sisters years ago, planted it in the very same spot, and then had to take drastic measures to keep the suckering hordes at bay.

One day (when my body is taken out of this place in a box)  maybe someone else will rip out my fruit trees, put a lawn across my asparagus and spray Round Up on the scurvy grass, kidney weed and native geranium that have crept back where the spider plants and trad used to run riot.  Maybe there’ll be a townhouse and a double-car garage where my mulberry tree is.  Perhaps the best I can hope is that someone will pull out my non-grafted passionfruit, muttering about root rot, and put in another Nellie Kelly.

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