In the past I have always got bored. One year of a job, one year of study, one year of most things and I am itching to do something new. Gardening, however, five years on, fills me with more and more pleasure each day. I have clearly found ‘my thing’.
There are fundamentals that I love about gardens and gardening. Being outdoors, seeing changes each day, the wholesomeness of the earth and water and organic material. But I think the thing that keeps me hooked is the infinite amount of variation.
Every single garden is unique. A different set of plants, arranged in a different way, surrounded by different flora, different hard landscaping and different views. Each one is beautiful in its own way, each one teaches you something new and each one generates different emotions. I love discovering and exploring what each ones offers to its visitors.
Retford Park, the Bowral home of James Fairfax, is particularly special for its trees. It is a striking house, perhaps not painted as I would choose, but it is anchored in and connected to the garden through the numerous established trees, making it less glaring.
Partly due to bush fire risk, partly due to a fear of root damage, typically Australian houses are cleared close to the property, with trees further out as space allows. But at Retford Park it is the opposite. The immediate garden is dominated by large, established trees of diverse range; beyond this is clear agricultural land and wonderful views.
I took over 200 photos on my visit to this garden. Admittedly not the first time I have taken so many, but still a good indication of something quite special. And here that special thing was trees.
There were evergreen trees for winter colour but the predominant feature was deciduous trees, all with vigorous, fresh, delicious, new growth, marking the seasons in such a bold way. At this time of year, not a brown edge, bitten corner or otherwise tatty leaf in sight.
Australian gardens need shade to enable us to enjoy loitering in them. Dappled shade is perfect – not only does it provide the perfect level of cooling but it also allows a little light through, enough for reading, chatting or admiring the garden. The forms and shapes and shadows trees create add to the atmosphere of the garden in a way that no man-made shade structure ever can.
And, often subconsciously, we appreciate the gravitas and presence that large trees provide. Not only their size, in comparison to other plants and indeed to ourselves, but also the years of life that has enabled them to grow so vast and the history they have experienced on their journey. They stoically survive through drought and downpours, heat waves and cold snaps, growing a few centimetres each year to become the majestic plants that they are today. More patient and resilient than the rest of us put together, they can embrace us, make us feel quite insignificant and in so doing, make our problems fade away to something much smaller.