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!
23 thoughts on “Bay of Fires: Footprints and treasure”
Fabulous! Thanks for sharing all those stunning photos Janna!
It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Glad you managed to wade through all those photos; it was my least successful filtering effort of all time!
What a wonderful trip it must have been. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. Just the sight in the photos of those brilliant blue skies alone is wonderfully uplifting after our four solid days of rain here in Sydney!
Thanks, Deirdre. When will this rain ever stop? We are never happy, are we?!
Just stunning images of one of our all time favourite stretches of coastline. I love the fluffy clouds in the tide film too. Gorgeous!
Ah, you have a link to Australia, Kate? Just visiting on holiday or more than that? Who couldn’t love the coastline in that part of the world?
Once upon a time we enjoyed several years in south east Asia, a great hub for lots of fabulous side trips ….
We have lots in common! We lived in Kuala Lumpur from 2008 to 2010 and so enjoyed all those side trips.
Gosh Janna, Tasmania has certainly brought out the poet in you. I loved your four themes analysis and the photos are stunning. I’m VERY envious of your echidna sighting; I have seen just one, briefly, in the wild. And of course I totally agree with you re using Australian plants. We still do suffer from the cultural cringe, even in the garden. It’s very sad.
If my GCSE English and A Level Further Maths teachers could hear you and Adriana calling me poetic they would be falling about laughing. Funny what happens when you grow up!
That’s decided that then. We must get you over to Tasmania when you do your next east coast trip. We saw three echidnas in as many days, all within a few feet of us. I adore how they waddle. However, they are now known to Paul and I as ‘itchy didnas’, after one of our group told us a very funny story relating to some slightly confused tourists to Australia.
Janna, your comments about light are intriguing. Weather conditions have a huge impact on how we perceive the colours around us, as does the intensity of light. One of the talks I give is about light and how to take advantage of its various properties. Shadows, for instance. They aren’t often taken into account when designing a garden but their presence and absence can make a big difference. The Italians are very good at using light and shadow and I’ve learned a lot by considering how they create the effects they do.
Thanks, Pat. We have endless learning opportunities in this subject of our hearts, don’t we? It’s fascinating to see what others do and indeed what nature does. I’ve got more questions than answers at the moment, but my thoughts are starting to come together. I’m looking forward to exploring light in more detail.
Wow. Gobsmacked. Tasmania is such a beautiful place.
Familiarity breeds contempt. Eucalypts, callistemon, and many more (if only I could grow them) would cost me a fortune over here. If it costs a lot ergo, it must be desirable.
I’m still gobsmacked too. You are of course quite right about familiarity. Mind you, great Australian native gardens are harder to find than echidnas; so rare you would have thought they should be in the highest of demand. Gosh, I’ve got a lot of work to do before I leave!
You are an artist and a poet Janna; your extraordinary insights are always as breathtaking as the senery you describe. Tasmania’s wilderness is inspiring and strums at your emotions and I thought exactly the same thing as you Janna when I visited Tasmania – why do I bother gardening? We can never even come close to creating such natural gardens, but of course we can keep trying. Can’t wait to go back again now myself (soon). And if I could take photos as good as these I would be very happy indeed.
scenery not senery (and to think I edit things all day!)
And you are kind, Adriana! I remember you telling me of the magic of Cradle Mountain many years ago; how fantastic that you are planning another trip to Tasmania soon. I do hope it is as moving for you the second time; things only seem to improve for me with subsequent visits. You may surprise yourself with your photos when you go; the sun does all the work for you. I literally pointed and pressed my iPhone to get all these images. It’s not hard when your subject matter is so exquisite.
Oh Janna, I got goosebumps. I feel like that grouping of ideas should be chapters in a book. You have such a lovely way of taking an experience like that, and transmuting it with a gardeners eye into something richer and full of ideas for our gardens AND our lives. I really like reading and thinking about the connections between the hands-in-the-dirt practicalities of gardening and subtler themes like solitude and beauty, and social themes like our unease with native plants. This lovely post clean bowled it!
PS On ‘Solitude’ – My Christmas reading has been the new Sissinghurst book by Sarah Raven. Have you read it? She quotes Vita as saying a garden should be a “succession of privacies”. How lovely is that?!
PPS on ‘Light’ I noticed the other day that in the really deep shade under our mulberry tree the plants with bigger leaves reflected more light, particularly nice when they’re wet. Hadn’t really seen this till you got me thinking about it!
It’s so lovely for me to be in contact with someone who feels the same way that I do, Nicola. Thanks for all your thoughts, ideas and kind comments. I have indeed read Sarah Raven’s book. I used it as the basis of an assignment I wrote for my Master of Horticulture last year. I’m quite obsessed with Sissinghurst and can’t wait to be able to visit it at all different times of the year. Vita certainly ‘felt’ her gardens, too. And on light, I particularly adore large Hosta leaves in shady patches. We are, of course, ‘supposed’ to like large leaves in darker places: the plants have more surface area for photosynthesis, quite necessary in low light levels, so stand more chance of success. It fascinates me how natural occurrences so often appeal to us and look ‘right’. Keep looking and sharing!
Thanks for a most interesting, thought provoking post. One of the many great things about starting a blog for me is learning to pay attention to light in the garden and elsewhere. Your have captured the light so beautifully in your photos. I also love the idea of water in the garden…so calming, especially in Japanese gardens. On the topic of native plants, we have planted six plants this spring and only three survived. Maybe they (some) are a bit fiddly for people who are very busy? I know I shouldn’t think this way, but I always assume they are easy to grow.
I have a confession. I kill quite a lot of native plants too. And plenty other (honest) horticulturists admit to similar failings! I’ve read so much over the years about ‘exotic’ plants I seem to intuitively know how to look after them. But natives are prone to turn up their toes and die without warning. I blamed the clay soil and cold winters in Canberra. I blame imported, phosphorus-heavy soil and my desire to grow tropical Grevillea outside the tropics, here. But sadly I am the common theme! In reality, we don’t know all that much about growing our natives and we haven’t bred them for long enough to have identified the stalwarts amongst them. But it’s a vicious circle: until demand grows, the research and development won’t grow. My advice is to pick locally grown plants, be very careful to ensure good drainage and to avoid disturbing the roots. We’ll only really learn by planting them more often.
On another note, I’m delighted that your new blog is helping you to see things in new ways. I find it an extraordinarily rich source of learning. I never imagined it could be so rewarding. Here’s to happy blog writing!
Simply stunning….just how nature intended! What an amazing adventure you have been on. Janna don’t be defined from what teachers said during your school years, I know that each of us has strengths if we find the passion for which we want to write about. Had you written about gardens, nature or such things, you would have received top marks! Thought provoking ideas on light. Something to ponder. Oh and I think I was one of your clients who said I didn’t particularly like natives……you are changing my view.
Thanks for your encouragement, Louise. Isn’t it just stunning there? Yes, possibly you did say to me that you didn’t much like natives…but you also did have an open mind and were willing to try new things. There’s no point filling your garden with things you’re not so keen on and missing out on all the plants and colours you love. Gardening preferences for all of us evolve over time and it’s also hard to find natives that suit the Canberra climate; not so much development has happened on frost hardy species, so you’re more limited than most. The good news is that on the whole, I find people tend to just love more and more plants over time, so have an increasing selection to choose between; which is not the worst problem to have! You can just tweak your garden as you go, depending on what brings you most pleasure. (PS Sorry for the delayed response; we were away again and I didn’t take my laptop this time.)