A little while ago, I spent some time thumbing through albums and organising dusty boxes of photographs and came across some pics of our little property in country Western Australia.
The photos are a huge wrench for my heart, for they show the place which was the saving of my Self and the making of who I am.
There, in that secluded nook carved within an old forest, I was truly able to begin to mend the hurt of a long abused childhood.
It was my sanctuary.
Following are scans of photos I took many years ago. They are not great quality, but still, looking at them even after all this time, as hard I might try otherwise, the tears fall unbidden.
I wish now that I had taken more photos of the gardens in all seasons, for a garden is as beautiful at rest in the depths of winter as it is in the flush of spring and in the hazy, ripe warmth of summer.
The small, hundred year old weatherboard cottage was once the school for a mere handful of local farmers’ children, and was surrounded by a couple of bare, grassed acres.
On the eastern side of the cottage, just outside the back door, was a very old apple tree which produced beautiful, huge heritage cooking apples. Many blissful hours were spent sitting under its mossy, verdant boughs offering deep, deep shade on a warm summer’s day, and countless apple pies and crumbles were cooked with those delicious apples. We loved that tree very much.**
|hubby's handiwork - arbor and pretty picket fence surrounding the old apple tree|
We acquired chickens and geese, adopted orphan sheep and calves and kangaroos. Then, baby goats that grew to provide us with fresh, nutritious milk - from which I made the best soft herbed cheeses we ever tasted.
Our now ex-city dogs, Max and Jessie, were in seventh heaven, and behaved ever so well with our new country brood.
Soon, I bought a horse, then another.
There were many networks of forest trails and back roads to ride, and I spent a glorious few years in their company.
|misty morning trails adjoining the property|
Then, after early miscarriages, I fell pregnant successfully. But, due to complications, I could no longer ride, and the painful decision to sell my horses was made.
As my belly grew, so did the grass in the small, sad, empty paddocks.
But also, a kernel of an idea began to grow alongside my wee babe.
And, in time, I turned grass into gardens.
The experience of being a new mother was a deeply profound incredible honour, and I look back on those days with a great fondness that tugs at my heart. Motherhood is selfless and all consuming. In nourishing a child, you give all of yourself in those early days/weeks/months. Just as it should be.
But, there was still the child within me that was left wanting. She was crying out in need too. Forsaken long ago and further ignored. Something was missing.
I was never shown how to be a good mother. I had no - absolutely no - strong female role model. No friends. No support. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to, “do this mothering thing”.
Both my husband and I were adrift on the alternating joyful/tearful sea of new parenthood.
In creating a garden - this garden - I was able to make myself a better mother, and allay my husband's worries. I finally understood how to nurture.
|sweet boy, not much bigger than the watering can, my eager little helping hand ♥♥|
Day by day, I learned that children and gardens, respond to the kind of care that they get. That a garden requires patience, work, careful attention and love. So does a child.
My baby boy was never neglected. Neither was my garden.
He grew like topsy, and so did my garden.
I gave so much to them. And they thrived.
In return, they showed my inner child - she, who once didn’t believe in any kind of good future - how to sing, and smile, and dance.
And there, in that Secret Hollow, in my old cottage and pretty garden, with my husband, child and beloved animals by my side, I began to heal.
Those days. In between mothering and tending animals, I spent time designing, stepping out preliminary plans, hauling barrow load upon barrow load of mulch, carting bucket after bucket after bucket of grey water from the laundry tub and turning deep sand into good, composted soil. Shifting large rocks from one end of the property to the other. Digging endless holes as the spade became an extension of my arms.
Hands blistered and calloused, muscles endlessly aching, skin burnt by the sun’s rays - or soaked to the core from working in the rain, and deep bone weariness at the end of each and every day was more than cathartic.
It was the building up that my broken spirit needed.
|the front garden, newly planted|
|here be dragons... and kittens|
|thriving and growing|
|a secret garden takes shape with its beautiful arbor awaiting a gate|
|the following season - enticing and mysterious|
|inside the secret garden looking out - spot Sunny beneath the bench|
I have so many wonderful memories of the creating of this garden ~
~ Large areas of overgrown turf turned into enriched beds waiting for green inhabitants to arrive.
~ Digging holes. I became very proficient at digging and planting, digging and planting.
~ Laying pathways of salvaged bricks and crazy paving.
~ Hoarding many large cardboard boxes, to split open and lay upon the soil before mulching - a very effective weed suppressor method. Thick newspapers worked well too.
~ Dropping into the small nursery in town after the weekly shopping, wandering the rows, baby on hip, looking for "just one more potted plant to fill that gap". And, being able to divide or propagate more plants from one pot.
~ Driving to the local post office to pick up boxes of tube stock herbs and perennials ordered from nursery catalogues.
~ The day I bought seven Silver Birch saplings to plant in the lawn alongside the top garden.
*I used Edna Walling’s preferred method of putting the same number of potatoes as tree saplings in a bucket, flinging them forth over the chosen area, and planting the trees where the potatoes fell – a less formal and more harmonious, natural way of planting. Edna would often plant two birches in the one hole, as seen in a woodland setting.
~ Hubby being amused, as I clapped my hands each season when a truck full of mulch or baled straw arrived at the front gate. A snug blanket-to-be for the garden.
~ Watching in awe as hubby fabricated metal arches and wooden arbors from my drawn scribblings on the back of cereal packets. He’s a very talented man.
~ And especially, the excited anticipation of travelling with hubby, car trailer in tow, multiple times to pick up hundreds of Old and David Austin roses.
I came to know, and remember each and every one of them, and whispered their names as I greeted them every day.
~ The utter joy at seeing plump buds and new growth tips appear at the end of each winter. The promise of spring/summer lushness to come.
Heliotrope by the back door – the subtle scent of vanilla would waft gently throughout the house
|the rear garden, a perfect way to hide the washing line - foxgloves and roses and pansies oh my!|
|gorgeous golden blooms of David Austin's Graham Thomas with a scent like delicious custard|
|adorable Abraham Darby - prolific and perfumed|
|the beauty of scent - Abraham Darby and lovely Leander at the back with DA Heritage in the foreground|
Each season required specific jobs: weeding, mulching, pruning, fertilising. Every one a learning curve. I improved with each year, and the garden responded likewise.
No task, large or small, was ever resented. For it would have felt like begrudging what my soul delighted in.
Even regular lawn mowing - which took a minimum of two hours with my trusty hand pushed Honda Buffalo mower (I named it Buffy) was a happy task. It gave me time to contemplate, plan and dream… and a Gemini always needs time to dream :)
|how to disguise an old shed - lots of blooms!|
Truly, halcyon days.
It’s hard to believe that one place could hold such importance in one’s heart.
But, this was to me, my Brigadoon. A place of magic, shrouded from a world of hurt. Where I could shut the gates and feel safe. Finally.
After almost seventeen years, the leaving of it forever was so very, very difficult…
Somehow, I feel a part of me will always remain there, in that little secret hollow in the forest, thousands of miles from where I am now. How can it not?
Will I find another place where I can grow again? I truly hope so. I learned so much back then, and have more to learn, and to give.
I want to spend the rest of my days tending herbs and vegetables, with dogs and cats milling about my feet as I take moments to stop, bathed in the amber light of a warm summer’s afternoon, and smell the heady scent of old English roses once more - as my soul sighs deeply and the child within sings sweetly...
‘The Soul of the Rose’, also known as ‘My Sweet Rose’, by John William Waterhouse
**After we sold the property, the old apple tree was cut down by the new owners to extend the carport. Those people moved on three years later, leaving the legacy of an ugly extension instead of an aged, graceful and still fruiting, heritage tree. The news of this broke my heart.