I think I know what heaven must be like


“The many great gardens of the world, of literature and poetry, of painting and music, of religion and architecture, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of a garden. If you don’t want paradise, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don’t have a soul.”  Thomas More

“When you increase the number of gardens, you increase the number of heavens too!”  Mehmet Murat Ildan

I wandered a heavenly space last week, only for an hour or so, at the end of a busy day. It was refreshing to body, mind and soul. I wandered, entranced by the beauty and the magnitude of the Cairns Botanic Gardens. Cairns is a city in far north Queensland. It is part of Australia’s wet tropics and is framed by stunning rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Cairns is a very popular tourist destination.

I fortuitously came across the gardens on my predawn walk and determined to return that afternoon to explore. What better way to spend an afternoon when travelling for work? I did not expect to be so enthralled by the magnificence of the space and of the beauty I discovered there.

I came to learn that the Cairns Botanic Gardens has one of the best tropical plant exhibitions in Australia. The gardens developed, according to early records, in the late 1800’s when a significant quantity of land was set aside for a recreational reserve. Today it has blossomed into several botanic spaces with a diverse plant life that provides visitors with a taste of the wet tropics.

Cairns Botanic Gardens exhibits over 4000 tropical plant species from around the world. Most of the plants throughout the gardens are labelled with both their botanical and commonly used name, which provides interest. There are bromeliads (which I recognised), cycads, epiphytes, ginger plants, lots of flowers and various ferns, along with many native plants, trees and palms. I collected a brochure, one of many, on the Aboriginal Plant Use Garden and took a self-guided walk. It was a truly informative walk; I had no idea plants could be used for so many purposes other than food.

Sharing the space is an arts hub, several neat cafes, an education centre, places for picnics and open space for sprawling on the grass and relaxing. I could have stayed for hours drinking in the uniqueness of the orchids, water lilies, and the carnivorous plants (which are always fascinating) in the conservatory. On my next visit I am keen to explore the Centenary Lakes and the Gondwana Heritage Garden.

Give me a book, a garden to read it in and a cup of tea and I’m as content as can be. I enjoy the beauty of gardens and the functionality of plants. My garden at home isn’t beautiful but it does contain plants that can be cultivated for medicinal and culinary purposes. Herb and plant lore fascinate me. Doing a little research one quickly learns that gardens and the cultivation of plants have been around for thousands of years dating back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Romans, also keen gardeners, were aware of the medicinal properties of plants. Monastic gardens were created around the 8th century and Monks used the beauty of plants and flowers as a celebration of god. Later, what are referred to as psychic gardens, appeared. Basically these were herb gardens designed for academic purposes. The herbs were studied to determine their medicinal properties. The first psychic gardens began to arise in Italy around the 16th and 17th centuries and were often found mostly in the grounds of universities. These were, in essence botanic gardens, though not as we know them today.

Botanic gardens, as we know them today, did not appear until much later. A precursor saw the establishment of gardens, not for the joy or pleasure to be had in the plant itself, but for the nurturing of crops and the commercial advantages to be gained. When international trade became commonplace gardens were established in many countries to try to cultivate new species that were being brought back from expeditions to far off and exotic locations.

In the 19th and 20th centuries gardens for pleasure were created throughout Europe and the British Commonwealth. The scientific programs, previously established in “botanic” gardens, were phased out, though plants continue to be scientifically labelled for our education and enjoyment.

Botanic Gardens Conservation International claims there are currently close to 2000 botanic gardens and arboreta in 148 countries around the world with many more under construction or being planned. I’ve visited only a handful of these in several countries. Which ones have you visited? Did you have a favourite?




Gardening; it’s a tough gig!

The monstrosity

The monstrosity

A garden is always a series of losses set against a few triumphs, like life itself…   May Sarton

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.  May Sarton

It was the silence that woke me. An unusual hush had fallen across the air outside my bedroom window that, at dawn, is otherwise a cacophony of bird song. Lately, the non-lyrical cawing of crows has drowned out the melodic songs of other birds and served as a crude alarm clock for the weary. Even the lush, throaty warble of the magpie has been dampened by the crows cawing.

I’ve had some issue with crows of late.  A month or so ago, while out walking, I came across a ( what’s the name for a group of crows? Not a gaggle, that’s geese, not a flock surely? Perhaps it’s a shroud?) group of crows and I kid you not, I was followed by one of them. It was very unnerving at the time hearing the strong beating of those black wings just above my head, flying so far, stopping to perch, looking away as if it were not tailing me, then taking off in pursuit again as I powered up the street. This crow continued to follow me for a good ten minutes. If I stopped to look at it, he would turn away, stay put a little then continue in his pursuit. I thought it unusual at the time but soon dismissed it until it occurred again, when I was walking a completely different route, several weeks later.

Anyway, what’s this to do with my garden? Well, the crows have descended on the perimeters of my garden like a swarm (actually, it’s ‘a murder of crows’. I just looked it up). Several crows have been making regular visits to my garden. At first they came to drink from the bird bath. No big deal, it’s been sweltering hot. Then I noticed they would sit high in the neighbour’s silky oak tree, scanning the yard. Over the course of a week they became emboldened and sat closer, upon the fence. I noticed it was not just morning visits they would make. Before too long each afternoon they were to be found scrounging around, picking at hard seeds that had fallen from a neighbour’s tree into the yard.  This behaviour puzzled me. Why were they here? What has driven them to my yard, apart from the water and the seeds?

Low and behold, I was sitting at breakfast on the back deck one morning when I heard a rustling. A strange, ‘wrong’ kind of rustling. Upon investigation I discovered a very crafty crow had slipped beneath the netting I had thrown over my fig tree in an effort to discourage possums, turkeys, grasshoppers and the like from devouring my sweet precious bounty. The sheer cunning and audacity of this crow, to find the one small rise of netting to slip under and feast upon the fruit of kings, incensed me.  Not only had this crow foiled my protective borders but it had the bad manners to sample several fruits and leave half uneaten spoils behind. Really? My mother always told me to eat everything on my plate. To add insult to injury they leave calling cards scattered across the lawn, discarded feathers dotted here and there.

The insult added to injury - crow calling cards

The insult added to injury – crow calling cards

Into battle mode I went, redesigning and repositioning the netting to ensure no gaps existed. After several attempts, with armfuls of white nylon and a few laundry pegs, stakes and the like, I managed to construct a monstrosity in my garden. I’m concerned the weight of it is too much for my dear fig tree but I felt confident I could safely leave the premises without concern, assured my fruits would ripen for my table and not the tummies of my black cloaked visitors.

Several years ago, when I first began gardening, I had issues with nocturnal visits from possums that would partake of the herbs, fruit and vegetables in my harvest garden. So up went the walls. One very ‘close to nature’ friend suggested sharing with them but at the time I was determined that the fruits of my labour would not be shared with uninvited guests that I constructed perimeters to protect my burgeoning  yield. My yard now looks quite a shambles. It isn’t pretty by any means and perhaps not too functional either. I realised the possums were the least of my concerns when the grasshoppers descended en mass and began reproducing at an alarming rate and promptly shredding the leaves of the fig, lemon and orange trees, not to mention all the smaller crops as well. You name it, they ate it. Then the pretty little fluttery white moths came and lay eggs that turned into nice little green grubs that munched heartily on my Asian greens, cauliflower, kale and more. How to  overcome these invaders? Does one have to wage a constant battle against these formidable opponents? I know not the answer.

The fortified perimeters in place.

The fortified perimeters in place.

This latest feathered foe has me running from my bedroom in the early hours of the morning giving chase to save my crops. This morning in the hushed silence two plump, glossy crows were feasting upon my blueberries – a little bush I was delighted to see producing a flux of fruit this year compared to the meagre dividend of three round berries of last year. Groggy from sleep and barely able to coordinate my limbs I ran from the house wielding a pink rubber thong and hurled it at the intruders before, pyjama clad, constructing a temporary screen around what is left of the blueberries.
I find myself between indignant fury and a reluctant respect for the craftiness of these feathered ‘friends’. I can’t help but wonder what change has occurred to drive the crows to behave in this manner. I am familiar with crows as scavengers; lifting scraps from bins and picking through rubbish. I had not known them to be connoisseurs  of modern superfoods. So I find myself asking the same questions, year after year, as I puddle about in my hobby garden, trying to raise a few crops for my table, enjoying the time outdoors, hands in dirt, sun on skin, “How does one overcome these invaders? Is it worth the constant battle or should I give in?  Is there a middle ground? Can I wave a white flag and call a truce somehow with the crawling, hopping, flying, skulking opponents who love my garden as much as I do?”

I suspect it’s up to me to find the balance, to make the concessions, as nature is surely stronger than my resolve and far more enduring. I suspect it is nonsensical to pitch a human will against the force of Mother Nature but can anyone tell me, before I go rabid, how I might work with her in this case?


Books, Bunnings and blasphemy

Things have been really great lately. I’ve developed some new interests and I now spend my time in different, very productive ways.  Despite my excitement around these new ventures I stopped, momentarily, just this week and questioned my priorities.

You see, I love books and bookshops.  Novels, big coffee table picture books, children’s books, books of poetry, books on yoga and cooking. History books, books on travel, even very old, musty smelling books. I love them all.

I love bookshops too. Did I mention that? I used to hunt out new bookshops and travel the city to visit an unexplored bookstore.  Small independents, book exchanges, online sellers and even the big commercial bookstores. I love them all.

So, you’ve probably gathered I have a love of reading. But I also love the touch and feel of books. The quality of the paper, the thickness and the artwork on the cover all appeal to me. I’ll buy a book simply because it feels good. I absolutely adore the feel of a book with rough cut pages (deckled edges). Embossed and gold leaf covers also grab me.


So great is my love of books I’m rarely without one close at hand. I was travelling in France several years ago and I’d finished both of the books I’d packed. I went three weeks without a book to read and couldn’t find an English book anywhere. I couldn’t read the magazines or newspapers I saw on the newstands and in supermarkets as they were in French. I was starving for a book to read. There was a physical ache in my gut.  My fingers were itchy. I was tormented.  Then, just when I thought I would implode from the dire craving I had to read, I happened across a secondhand shop with a small cardboard box of English novels out front. I spent a good half hour pouring over each and every book; reading the front and back covers, scanning the inside; carefully selecting my treasure. I was sated, topped up and refuelled in those few moments with that box of books. I’d found heaven, hugging a book to my chest in pure delight.

Recently, I’ve begun to have similar feeling towards my garden. For the first time I have a garden and I’m experimenting with the planting and germination of herbs, vegetables and some pretty flowers. The joy that comes from seeing something you plant grow and then yield fruit and offer sustenance at your table or delight the senses is truly something. I long to be home to potter barefooted in my garden. It rejuvenates me and calms me.  Whether I am planting, watering, weeding or digging garden beds I am at home and content in my garden.

When one has a love affair with gardening one also needs to buy supplies: soil, compost bins, bird netting, seedlings, hoses, stakes etc. This new passion of mine has led me to haunt a new type of store. The hardware store!

imageYou’ll not find me in a bookshop as often as you will my local Bunnings hardware.  I have found myself standing outside waiting for the doors to open on a Saturday morning. I am fascinated by the range of products on offer. I know my way around the aisles better than my husband, so familiar am I with the place.

And this is where I began to question myself and to (lightheartedly) evaluate my priorities.  Maybe you can help me?

Is it blasphemous to love Bunnings more than books?

Here’s to enjoying new opportunities and indulging your passion, whatever it might be.