Putting down roots

Literally, not metaphorically, though perhaps the literal will nurture the metaphoric.

Well over a year ago now, I wrote about the inspiration I had been given by Stephanie Alexander’s wonderful school kitchen garden project. I didn’t have enough knowledge about gardening in Australian conditions, nor did I have the energy to push a project in my daughters’ school, and in any case, I don’t need to; in the past year the school has established garden beds and water tanks and the the junior primary school children are already planting flowers and vegies just outside their classrooms. But I did think that I could introduce my own daughters to the delight of gardening, in our own spacious back yard.

Alas, my ambitions came to nothing last year. Too much emotion tied up with moving, with coming to terms with being in a strange land, with trying to manage a couple of part time and temporary jobs, and settle ourselves into a new city. It was a difficult year, and gardening was just too hard. Ordinarily, I find that gardening soothes and nourishes my soul, but when I am too down at heart, I cannot even find the energy to begin. But by the middle of this year, I had finally begun to find myself in Adelaide. So it was time to garden, time to create gardens for our girls.

vegeThis is the space we started with. It had masses of bearded irises in it, which I love, so last year, in desultory fashion, I dug them all out and spread them around the rest of the garden. And then, nothing. I just left the dirt. It was dry and bare over summer, and then it grew weeds, which my dad weeded out, and then I left it some more and it grew some more weeds and another summer dried them out. So I dug it over and it grew more weeds, but before they got too high, I managed to dig it over again. Then we got busy laying bricks. I dug a trench down the length of the garden, the girls spread sand in it, Mr Strange Land spread more, and laid bricks down it, to form a long, narrow garden. Then a few days later the girls and I divided it into three, and the girls laid yet more bricks, to mark each girl’s garden.


Off we went to the garden centre, and came back with roses, one for each girl, and some strawberry plants, and some pansies and violas, and some vegies. White Iceberg and mixed lettuces for Miss Ten, Sophy’s Rose and cos lettuces for the elder Miss Eight, and a Delbard rose, Souvenir de Louis Amade and spinach for the younger Miss Eight. She has a passion for spinach, and eats it with gusto. I have encouraged the girls to plant roses, in part because they are drought-hardy (roses are tough old things), in part because they add structure to the garden, in part because I want the girls to think about design as well as individual plants, but mostly because I love roses, a love that I learned from my mother, and I want to pass that love on to my girls. I’m not all that fond of standard roses, but I love the softer, old-style roses, with gorgeous colours and shapes and perfumes.

A few days later, we made another plant foraging trip, this time in the company of friends down to the Willunga Farmers Market, where we bought herbs: thyme and sage and hyssop and oregano and catnip and coriander. Our friends gave us bulbs and some pea plants from their own gardens, and we bought a few more things at a nursery. Then we spend another day planting, putting masses of compost under and around each plant, watering them well, and mulching them with pea straw. I dusted off the two bean frames the previous owners had left behind, and made another one from bamboo, and settled the peas against them.

We looked at what we had done, and saw it was good.


The girls have learned a lot about gardening: how to get plants out of pots, separate out seedlings carefully, tuck them gently into the ground, and water and mulch. They’ve thought about how their gardens will look, and they’ve made plans for the future. They still have space in their gardens for more plants, and over the next few weeks, we will add more (cherry tomatoes and capsicums and zucchini and carrots and more lettuces and herbs). I will also get some seed (basil and parsley and lettuce and sunflowers and anything else we fancy) and we will set up a seed-raising operation too. They will need help and encouragement to keep going, and I suspect that I will end up doing a lot of the work myself, but that’s okay. I want them to catch the gardening bug, not feel too burdened by the duties of gardening. I’m hoping that in a couple of months we will be able to start harvesting salad vegies and herbs from their gardens, and that we will be able to put the second part of Stephanie Alexander’s philosophy into practice, cooking with vegetables we have grown ourselves.

There is a mother’s garden too, between the girls’ gardens and the herb garden. I’ve planted the Mary Rose, and rainbow chard and rocket, and masses of herbs. Long time readers will recall that I planted up a herb garden last year. Some herbs survived my winter of discontent, and some did not, but I have a good starting place to start growing again. I have grown some rosemary from cuttings, and transplanted one into my garden, and one into Miss Ten’s garden (the rest will be bedded down by the letter box, in lieu of the dead buddleia). Last year I asked for advice about what to put in the centre space, and you kindly gave me many helpful and lovely suggestions. Given my rose predilections, I’ve taken Julie’s advice, and planted a rose. Mutabilis – one of my favourites. I had the Mary Rose and Mutabilis growing in my garden in Wellington. Alas, I couldn’t bring them with me, but at least I can put new ones in here. As they settle into the soil here, and spread their roots, I hope that I will too.



4 comments on “Putting down roots

  1. donnasoowho says:

    Garden looks fantastic! It’s a bit of a wait now until spring when everything will take off though – well if you’re impatient like me. I keep on going outside and inspecting the bare branches of everything for signs of life but nothing yet!

  2. kate says:

    For gardening in Australian conditions I’d recommend reading Jackie French. Her books generally need a careful editor, but apart from that they’re quite helpful with thinking about water, light and heat.

    It’s also worth looking for the indigenous seasons in your area, rather than the European four, in thinking about how it all works. Then plant lots and lots of seeds, experiment, and grow more of what works.

  3. M-H says:

    Planting is my favourite part of gardening. I hope you all have many happy hours tending your gardens. And I’m glad you’ve finally been able to get to the place where you can make them.

  4. ThirdCat says:

    This is so beautiful and soothing (which I sort of needed because I have also just read that post down there with the dinosaurs and the house and the housekeeper and so on which is utterly depressing).

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