TREES WHICH LIE DOWN.

The entry to the Bay Beach at Cape Paterson is through a narrow tea tree path curving across the low dune backing the beach. This last summer, we have been taking a small step up the prostrate tea tree trunk lying across the path onto the sand banked up behind it. Almost twenty years ago we just had to duck under the leaning tree. Then, later, came the stage of adults clambering over and children wriggling under the barrier presented by the trunk. A few years later it became easy to just step over and now the trunk offers this barely noticeable step up. I wonder if by next summer it will be totally under the sand blown up through the tea tree tunnel by the winter Southerlies.

This single tea tree has reminded me of the reclining tea trees in the central plantation of Beaconsfield Parade between Port Melbourne and St Kilda. These are very old and thick trunked trees, blown by the South Westerlies into a permanent position of least resistance. Their grey, twisted, hairy barked trunks insist on doing what they want and I like to see them being so unstructured in what is essentially an urban landscape of cars, trucks and footpaths and buildings. It’s a reminder that just across the road is Port Phillip Bay. A bit further on is the Rip, Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean with its fierce Westerlies. All that pent-up wildness makes its mark on those trees.

And then I think of mulberry trees and their habit of gracefully lying down as they age. My childhood garden had a mulberry tree which reclined gently towards the side fence. Its wide trunk could be walked up half way, straddled like a very make-believe horse and was difficult to mow around. There was another mulberry tree near Bendigo in the paddocks on the Melbourne side of Big Hill. We would go there for Sunday afternoon picnics with Mum’s parents. They would park on the very wide roadside reserve, drink thermos tea and chat and doze in the late summer sun, while we kids raced across the paddocks, through fences to the dark green mounding mulberry colony. The thick rough leaves hid a green glowing climbing paradise of low trunk-bridges and sloping branches; all ours and completely private.

I’m remembering the absolute contrast of the mulberry trees on the lawns of Cliveden House (involved in the notorious Profumo affair) above the Thames in England. Again, I saw a family group of very old mulberry trees, this time reclining, not in dry paddocks near Bendigo, but on close cut lawns, surrounded by ancient walls, perennial borders, formal driveways and rose gardens. The National Trust had put up signs telling visitors that the trees are very old and politely asking the public to not climb them. This sign was being completely ignored by shouting children clambering over the unexpected climbing frame.

I like the way that these trees have decided not to stay vertical but have succumbed to the need to have a good lie down.

 

HOLLYHOCKS

This summer I’ve rediscovered the hollyhock. Last year, our neighbour had a tall magnificent display of crimson hollyhocks which I could catch glimpses of through a nail hole in the back fence. They swayed and glowed against the grey of the planks. She gave me a little dried pouch of the seeds which I scattered in the soil. Obviously, they needed more attention than that, because nothing happened.

Last spring, on one of my ramblings around Bunnings garden section, I saw a punnet of hollyhocks – Dwarf Pastel. Well, I didn’t particularly want ‘dwarf’ nor ‘pastel’ but as that was the only offering, I bought them and planted them in the new flower bed up against the back fence. The seedlings sat there, not dying, and gradually filled out and it seemed that I had some hollyhock plants. But would they flower this summer?

Over the weeks and months, they spiked up, looking modestly dwarf and green.

By mid-January, flower buds had bulged against the green columns of the stalks. What colour would they be?   And then a succession of revelations! First a very pale pink, soft crinkled flower unfurled its skirt, then a creamy apricot, a crimson and last, another pale pink. Each bloom looked a bit pallid as it unfolded but gained depth after a day in the light. And so much for ‘dwarf’! Only one has remained at about a metre high. It is the one in the most sun and it has also branched out into a bushy plant with a few stalks. The ones against the side fence with less sun have grown and grown, stretching up tall and thin to have more sun on their flower heads.

I’ve loved seeing their soft pretty flowers against the green foliage and the grey weathered fence. I can see them from inside the house and also from the back deck.

They’ve brought back memories of the Eaglehawk hollyhocks. We never had any in the garden when I was a child but much later, after the almond tree had gone and Mum and Dad had put in a low curved stone wall to tidy up that bit of lawn and slope, hollyhocks appeared on the lawn side of the wall.  They were huge spires of green and pinky crimson, taller than I am. Mum would laugh at them in amazement, almost apologetic about their abundance. They just seemed to look after themselves and reappear each year. The Eaglehawk soil is rich and the sky, open and wide.

I would take seed back to Warrandyte, where we lived at the time, sprinkle it, but nothing happened. I’m not very patient with seed but now think I need to concentrate on respecting it and doing the seed germination thing properly!

Our soil is not a natural for hollyhocks. We are on the slope of an ancient dune curving through the heart of Cape Paterson and have hydrophobic sand. I’ve dug in compost, much to the delight of Mrs Blackbird, watered and mulched and it’s improving very gradually. This year I put in a soaker hose to snake through the flower bed, and that has been a great help.

It mystifies me how the hollyhock seeds itself and exists so casually in stone European streets. I see small pink spires creeping out of crevices and bursting from a tiny patch of earth between a wall and a stone pavement.

These hollyhocks have typified what a lot of gardening is for me. It’s about embodying memories and ideas of gardens past and bringing them in to the present and then the future.

‘Eaglehawk Girl. A Freerange Child’ is launched.

‘Eaglehawk Girl’ is a memoir of my free range childhood in Eaglehawk, Victoria, Australia in the 1950s.

Brolga Publishing and I launched it on Wednesday, October 24.

It’s available from Australian bookshops, Booktopia and will be available on US Amazon in a few weeks.

The content fits into Eaglehawk Childhood here on the blog.

Happy reading.

The book is googlable under the title.

For some reason the image of the cover is lying down. Sorry.

Liz Low

 

Who would have thought I would love my mobile phone so much!

 It was 4.31 am. I was lying on my back, wide awake in a hospital room. Both feet were in booties attached to a pressure pump, my two legs were safely strapped to a sort of block cushion and the pain relief was not exactly working. My new right hip joint was exactly thirteen hours old.

Aha! I switched on the light, picked up my phone and sent a rather grumpy text, full of emoticons, to my daughters. That felt good. I knew their phones would be turned to silent but just after 7 o’clock I heard the welcome pings of their replies.

That’s one reason why I love my phone. It provided comfort and relief from the claustrophobic post-operative three days in hospital.

That period was an extension of the almost daily contact that I, living in Melbourne, have with my daughters via text and Instagram. My son, in Perth, is more reticent . We text less and talk more. Our oldest daughter and her partner have recently adopted a rescued greyhound, Toby, who is now our designated grandpuppy. I receive pictures and comments about him and his enormous cuteness. We exchange chit chat about work, the weather- she rides her bike to work- plans, the TV we watch. Our younger daughter has two small children aged one and nearly five and lives on Phillip Island. Practically every day we talk via text. She sends pictures of the children, herself at Surfing Mums, shares stories about them and shows what she’s picked from the veggie garden.

I think back to the late seventies when I had the two girls and the late sixties when I had my son. My parents lived in Eaglehawk, one hundred miles north of Melbourne, and I would ring Mum once a week on a long distance call. It felt special as it was expensive to us at that time and I would have to wait for the cheaper evening rates. I would have loved to have had the casual, instant, easy contact that a mobile phone offers, especially when we went to the UK for three years with my two year old son. There were times when I really wanted to share something special or was lonely or bored and wanted to just talk to her about my children. Email would have been wonderful.

This family contact via smart phone continues with Instagram. I have a whole three followers, my two daughters and the friend who showed me how to do it. One daughter, who I introduced to Instagram, now claims that I have made her addicted to its curious pleasures. My friends are strangely uninterested in my Instagram efforts! My initial focus was plane trees and paths, both of which I, at least, am interested in. I’ve gradually extended my range of images as I developed my interest in urban nature on my writing website.

My daughters are polite with their ‘Likes’ but themselves are very unrestrained with their posts about family, dogs, guinea pigs and whatever they’re doing. I learnt how to do hash tags and was amazed to discover the number of people who are unable to resist #sunset and proceeded to ‘like’ my image. I then realized that I felt uncomfortable with complete strangers looking into my world and stopped hash tagging. Three viewers are fine!

I have two games I play by myself, Solitaire and Mahjong. These have filled in a lot of time in waiting rooms and so on. More fun is Word which I play with one friend living just 40 metres away and the other half way round the world in Wales. I enjoy sitting up in bed in the morning seeing what astonishing word my Welsh friend has produced overnight.

Mostly, however, I love and value the way my phone has enabled the relaxed, close contact with my family.

 

 

 

 

The Diesel

I was putting the washing on the clothes horse inside our Port Melbourne flat when I heard the strong, rich, vibrant sound of a diesel train’s horn.

“I heard a diesel!”I called out and then started wondering if everyone called those trains, ‘a diesel’. It sounds a bit odd.

We used to hear that sound a lot in Eaglehawk as the train from Swan Hill passed through Eaglehawk on its way to Melbourne. It would sound its horn at every level crossing and I would hear the horn getting louder and then fading away as the train headed towards Bendigo. We lived a good few blocks away from the railway line so usually didn’t hear the train itself, except on late-summer nights.

I remember lying in bed as a child, hot and under just a sheet, and hearing a deep,deep, heavy, groaning rumble approach and then recede into the distance. The familiar horn accompanied it. I could almost imagine the ground vibrating.

These were the wheat trains, travelling slowly and by night, from the wheat towns in the North West of the State to Melbourne and the Port. I liked knowing that about the trains. I think I knew that the wheat was probably going to go on ships, to England, maybe.

As an adult I have driven through these small towns with a railway siding and huge silos and can imagine the work and activity and satisfaction of getting that crop onto the train and sent away.

I’ve always liked the sound of the diesel’s horn and have been pleased to hear in in the urban environment of Port Melbourne. Sometimes at Lagoon Oval I’ll hear it come across from the docks and it feels as if the country has come to the city.

I hope I’ll hear it from inside the flat again, while I’m putting washing on the clothes horse. It’s a far cry from hearing the horn at Eaglehawk whilst helping Mum hang up the washing on the long clothesline in the back yard. I was glad to be reminded of that.