Autumn in Penrith NSW
I centre this blog around my garden, because gardens are focal, in all their forms, at the different staging posts of my life: from the first gardens I recall as a baby; that of the vast Ormeau Park in East Belfast, with its Victorian band-stands and forests of rhododendron, to the front garden of my grandparents’ new council house on the Belvoir estate, planted with roses at the front and neat rows of cabbages and potatoes at the back. My grandmother, a dis-placed country-woman, yearned all her life for her own patch of ground, just as I have longed for mine for so many years. A nomadic child-hood and adult apartment-dwelling denied me that, until I was able to plant my very first garden, here in Australia, aged 44.
The planting of the first garden also represented the “planting” of my own roots, here in the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are upside-down, and many of the plants and shrubs I love just won’t do here in the humidity of New South Wales. So, I have learned about new flora, and adapted my tastes, and my design, to suit the soil (clay and unforgiving) of my permanent home.
The adaptation has been spiritual and emotional too. This long journey has taken me, not to exotic climes and great adventure, but to my suburban garden in western Sydney, where I hope to stay, watching the plants and trees grow and bear fruit, until, very old, I can only sit under the shade of one of the trees I have planted, and watch the birds and butterflies, just as my Polish neighbour now does.
We speak in stilted pigeon-English and my very few words of Polish over our rickety boundary fence. I prune her roses for her, and pull weeds when I can. Beautiful oranges fall from her trees, and lie on the ground, with no one at home to eat them now. This year I will collect and juice them for her.
Rusted soccer goal-posts stand, twisted by the crumbling chicken-coop and shed. No more chickens scratch in the grass, no children frolic with a ball. Her garden is full of the memories of her sixty-odd years in Australia, where she was brought as a young bride, out of the devastation of Krakow. I give her blooms from my John Paul II white rose, the Polish saint planted in our common ground as immigrants, gardeners and Catholics.
Easter is a time for me to sit in my garden and think deeply. I think of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, and how He withdrew to the wilderness, or to the garden, to pray. I am walking my own “via dolorosa” at present, and as I take each step I am drawn back to my garden to salvage and nurture moments of peace, from the psychological turmoil. I have documented the restoration of my house and garden since moving in two-and-a-half years ago in pictures, and now in words. I hope that readers of this blog will follow, as the seasons and my life changes.