Well, we have arrived in England, to snow. I’m not quite sure what I did in a former life to deserve that, but today the sun is shining, Paul and I walked across the fields to a lovely country pub for Sunday lunch and everything feels much better. Yesterday, we went to the England/Wales match at Twickenham, and listening to the passionate (and tremendously loud) voices of 80,000 Brits sing ‘God Save the Queen’ almost brought me to tears. After a week of feeling quite foreign it certainly made me feel English again.
But apart from an awful (in the nicest possible way) lot of daffodils, gardens are still pretty bare. I’m amazed that this long after Christmas, there are so few signs of leaf buds on the trees. And so, as I donned my beanie to help Mum prune back her bare raspberry canes, I was a little wistful about the warm days of year-round, lush, Australian gardening.
But in some ways it’s good that we have a few weeks (there I am, being hopeful!) before the gardens really take off, as I’m months behind with writing up my Australian visits. I think we’ll start with Cat Alley, which I visited on my birthday last month. What an incredibly soul warming place that was.
It may have helped that I was with my dear, plant-mad friends, Catherine and Steven (miss you both!), but as soon as I turned the corner to see McElhone Place, my heart sang. In streets of tightly packed terraced houses and a void of nature strips and front gardens in most cases, it was an absolute oasis.
There’s no camera angle trickery to the photos. The entire street is absolutely packed, end to end, with plants; only a few narrow doorways providing occasional breaks to the vegetation. It’s hard to believe that the whole thing is pot-based; it’s simply a pavement that has efficiently been turned into a billowing garden.
Clearly, I’m a lover of all greenery, but I do have preferences for some types over others. It isn’t just the surprise of so many plants that delighted me so, but rather the exact look and feel of them.
Or perhaps I should say the inexact look and feel of them. It’s all a bit of a wilderness along that street. Well looked after and cared for, but a mishmash of every species you could possibly think of, all poked into the smallest of spaces.
And a mishmash of styles too. Some, beautifully curated, elegant colour schemes and some with every colour of flower imaginable. Some simple, modern compositions, with bold, architectural specimens, whilst others consisted of a cottagey mix of herbs and annuals.
It was this variation that gave the street its soul. Each owner planted exactly what they wanted in the strip outside their home; there were no rules or style police asserting influence. The common theme was that every single owner loved plants and this alone gave plenty of cohesion to the street. Every square centimetre of pavement being fully to bursting with pots and planters, creating a quite extraordinary effect.
But the soul exuding from Cat Alley wasn’t only about a shared love of plants, but something much deeper. As we strolled along, stopping to smell a Frangipani flower or identify something a little less usual, owners greeted us with a friendly hello from beyond the open doors of their houses. One lady came out to do her shopping, stopping to chat to a neighbour on her way and a gentlemen could be seen catching up with another in the street.
Could this be the most desirable street in Sydney? The houses are petit and harbour views non-existent, but it certainly felt like the nicest one I had ever visited. The community feel, the pride and care that was taken, without exception, not to mention the broad range of floral sensations that hit you as you walk along, is something that money can’t buy.
It is utterly soul warming, a stroll along McElhone Place, and I’m envious of the residents who must always enter their homes at the end of a long day with a calming smile on their face. I just hope that all the many cats who also live on the street, giving it its nickname, equally appreciate this magical, magical environment.