The short answer is “slowly and with feeling”. But let’s not rush into anything.
I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of by-law in Hornsby Shire against putting your kids to bed with a recitation of “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”. Something along the lines of the “Unsafe and age-inappropriate use of modernist poetry act of 1987”. But when your eight year old requests read T.S.Eliot, what can you do?
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when if I say that T.S. seemed to be a teeny bit negative about ageing. One can only speculate on how different this poem (and indeed his whole oeuvre) would be if Prufrock had focussed less on getting lucky with the sirens of the sea and more on pruning.
Because, let’s face it, gardening is an oldie’s game. When, yet again, the annual spud harvest fits in a single soup bowl; when your carrots are absurdly abbreviated; when another fruitless year passes for the ungrateful kiwifruit vine, the middle aged gardener shrugs her shoulders and thinks “next year”. The seasons tumbling past faster and faster just means a shorter delay before you have another go at germinating those ruby brusselsprouts.
Our Fraser Island creeper finally did its gaudy thing – flaunting great big, hot-pink clusters of flowers in the oddest place, not up where the growing fronds reach towards the light but way, way down in the gloom underneath the rampant Sweetie kiwifruit vine. It flowers on old wood. What a fine turn of phrase!
The Tecomanthi hillii not alone in dragging its feet. Here’s a wall of shame – some other plants that have taken their sweet time to do anything exciting at all. At least the “Bower of Beauty” has finally decided to flower on our side of the fence, rather than, like it did last year, offering a display exclusively to he neighbours.
It seems fitting, then we’ve taken what might be politely described as a contemplative approach to the execution of the massive weeds that tower over our back garden.
Our broad-leafed privet rivals the great redwoods of North America. We have a Japanese honeysuckle vine as gnarled and vigorous as a strangler fig, which scrambles through a hibiscus “bush” as tall as a two story building. If only the mystical growth potion that the erstwhile owners poured on these doughty invasive plants would seep down the hill into my peaky looking zucchini plants.
I like to think incremental approach to weed-murder has some ecological justification. Some weeds in some places – lantana, for instance – form a critical habitat, particularly for the smaller birds that have been disappearing from cities. If you clear it without replacing it, the LBBs vanish too.
So over the last couple of years, as well as installing a spiky tangle of hakeas, callistomens, sorbs, grasses and vines in an out of the way corner of the yard, I’ve been tracking down native fruit-bearing plants to replace the tainted bounty of the privet and honeysuckle berries. Purely in the interest of hungry birdlife, you understand. Nothing to do with fetishistic plant-hoarding.
Daleys up in Maleny and The Good Karma Farmer in Newcastle are my bushtucker dealers. In my experience, you can tell if it’s bushtucker because the critters get it before you. Following this logic, I’ve put in lillypillies, native gardenia and Davidson’s plum, koda for the Lewin’s honey eaters and the brown cuckoo doves and blueberry ash for the wonga pigeons. I’m fairly confident the birds won’t turn their noses up at the mulberries, the persimmons, my grapes, my persimmons and my cherries either, damn their eyes.
I’m still working on substitutes for the honeysuckle and the fine looking but weedy red trumpet vine we inherited from our house’s old occupants. Along with the hibiscus, they’re a favourite of our regulars, the little wattlebirds, and the gorgeous eastern spinebill, an all too occasional visitor.
I’m slowly sliding the wonga wonga vines, the Bower of Beauty, the dusky coral peas and the guinea vines amongst the potato vines and the honeysuckle. Lulling the evil invaders into a false sense of security before I strike… there will be time…
You see, Prufrock definitely has the makings of a gardener. You may well murder and create after your hundred indecisions, visions and revisions, but don’t forget that cuppa tea*.
*Health and safety warning: this is a gardening blog, not a work of literary criticism. No responsibility is taken for any adverse horticultural outcomes of incorrect readings of the Western literary canon.