Deserted beaches, fearless wildlife and flora so fitting to its surroundings I wondered why I bothered to ‘garden’ at all. These are the lasting memories of my recent trip to the north eastern coast of Tasmania.
On Boxing Day we drove three hours out from Launceston and commenced our four day hike. My walk in New Zealand had given me the bit between my teeth and I’d realised we only had two months to walk the rest of Australasia. We’d better get cracking!
This was an entirely different walk to the Heaphy track, a little less challenging (not least because my backpack weighed just 8kgs: bliss!) but equally as stunning in its own way. There were a few themes that struck me over our wonderful four days, which I’ll try and explain in a little detail.
I focussed a lot last year on analysing plant combinations. How to use principles of repetition, contrast, harmony and balance to create idyllic settings. Some of your very helpful comments on my last post of 2015 made me realise that the latter part of the year had been largely about reinforcing these ideas; seeing examples played out in the gardens I visited. And so, in the interests of continual learning, it’s time to explore new areas, in order to encourage more eureka moments.
I think light might be at the top of the learning list. It occurred to me that the light was entirely different in New Zealand compared to Tasmania. It was also obvious that the impact of my photographs was hugely affected by the quality of light; almost all from the Bay of Fires could pass for amateur postcards, whereas the duller Heaphy images often needed a plant lover’s eye for appreciation.
We can’t change the overall light coming down from the sky, but there is a lot we can do to change the effects it creates in our gardens. And my hunch is that our emotions are affected at least as much by light as they are with pretty plant combinations; quite possibly more so.
And so I started to think about why the light in Tasmania is so good. And what this means for our gardens. How can we use mirrors, water or carefully selected and positioned foliage to bounce light around in different ways?
It was clear that we need stronger contrasts to create impact in low light levels. Colours become a little ‘washed out’ in low light and so we need brighter shades to capture our attention. We also need lighter colours that reflect more light, rather than darker shades that strongly absorb it. Indeed you may have noticed that a lot of shade loving plants have white flowers; so insects can clearly find them in dim light.
One of my very favourite effects was the reflection of fluffy clouds in the film of water remaining as the waves returned to the sea. Yes, vast expanses of water are very special to be beside, but just the thinnest coating can also produce incredible effects. A garden without any form of water feature is perhaps a garden incomplete.
We can’t all live in a remote coastal lodge two days walk from civilisation, but we can all live in beautiful immediate surroundings. Beauty can bring such immense joy; new beauty can literally make our heart sing and even beauty that we live with day in and day out can bring subconscious joy. I believe it can make good things great and bad things bearable.
Take this seaweed, for example. Abandoned in a scrap yard, it could look like ugly tyre remains. But on a stunning coastline it becomes beautiful in itself. When your baseline is beautiful, so many other things improve too.
Our homes and gardens don’t need to be classically beautiful, follow the latest fashion or have the hand of a professional designer. They just need to be beautiful in our own eyes. A few days in Tasmania reminded me that we should never underestimate the power of beauty. Often the most beautiful things in life are free; by applying thought and care we can bring beauty to any environment, without the need for large sums of money.
Being away from the hubbub of city life has a reinvigorating and rejuvenating effect on me. It’s so easy to be distracted by everything happening around you but when you have no mobile signal, there are no cars or planes going past and you simply sit and look out into nature, you find yourself being in the moment. Just enjoying the here and now. No worries for what is going to happen tomorrow or next week or next year. Happy just to be.
It’s just the way I feel in a great garden. Everything else vanishes. I don’t need to try, I don’t need to do anything. I can just enjoy the moment.
Sometimes we need time by ourselves to feel this. As we walked along the beach, often the only footprints I could see were those of the birds. Sometimes I would walk with Paul, enjoying being in his company but not needing to say anything. Other times it was exciting to share thoughts, treasures found underneath our feet or have some other interaction with the group.
But solitude from busyness, from ugliness, from tomorrow and yesterday works wonders for our soul. And we can recreate that very special feeling in carefully created nooks and crannies of the smallest house or garden.
I’d be a very rich lady if I had a dollar for every time someone said to me ‘I don’t really like natives’. Looking out across the native plants of Tasmania, this phrase couldn’t sound more ridiculous to me. How can you possibly not like them?
And I realised that I am a part of this problem. I accept it when people request no natives. If designers can’t inspire people to have natives in their gardens, who can? Collectively we need to show Australians how wonderful natives can be. Produce such inspiring native gardens that all images of scrappy ‘bush gardens’ fade into insignificance.
People don’t want natives because they can’t imagine them looking divine. We just need more courage and more creativity and a whole new world of options will open up.
I’m quite sure the way forward in gardening is to take more inspiration from nature and to bring the wonderful emotions it evokes into our suburban spaces. I’d just like to press fast forward and hurry this evolution along. Take our stresses away and bring more footprints and treasure into our everyday lives.
I truly believe in the power of gardens to change lives.
Look what you have done to me, beautiful Tasmania!