Author: Paterson, Andrew
Genre: Short Story
The first step in amateur gardening is to sit down and consider what good you are going to get by it. If you are only a tenant by the month, as most people are, it is obviously not of much use for you to plant a fruit orchard or an avenue of oak trees. What you want is something that will grow quickly, and will stand transplanting, for when you move it would be a sin to leave behind you the plants on which you have spent so much labour and so much patent manure.
We knew a man once who was a bookmaker by trade -- and a Leger bookmaker at that -- but had a passion for horses and flowers. When he "had a big win", as he occasionally did, it was his custom to have movable wooden stables, built on skids, put up in the yard, and to have tons of the best soil that money could buy carted into the garden of the premises which he was occupying.
Then he would keep splendid horses, and grow rare roses and show-bench chrysanthemums. His landlord passing by would see the garden in a blaze of colour, and promise himself to raise the bookmaker's rent next quarter day.
However, when the bookmaker "took the knock", as he invariably did at least twice a year, it was his pleasing custom to move without giving notice. He would hitch two cart-horses to the stables, and haul them right away at night. He would not only dig up the roses, trees, and chrysanthemums he had planted, but would also cart away the soil he had brought in; in fact, he used to shift the garden bodily. He had one garden that he shifted to nearly every suburb in Sydney; and he always argued that the change of air was invaluable for chrysanthemums.
Being determined, then, to go in for gardening on common-sense principles, and having decided on the shrubs you mean to grow, the next consideration is your chance of growing them.
If your neighbour keeps game fowls, it may be taken for granted that before long they will pay you a visit, and you will see the rooster scratching your pot plants out by the roots as if they were so much straw, just to make a nice place to lie down and fluff the dust over himself. Goats will also stray in from the street, and bite the young shoots off, selecting the most valuable plants with a discrimination that would do credit to a professional gardener.
It is therefore useless to think of growing delicate or squeamish plants. Most amateur gardeners maintain a lifelong struggle against the devices of Nature; but when the forces of man and the forces of Nature come into conflict Nature wins every time. Nature has decreed that certain plants shall be hardy, and therefore suitable to suburban amateur gardeners; the suburban amateur gardener persists in trying to grow quite other plants, and in despising those marked out by Nature for his use. It is to correct this tendency that this article is written.
The greatest standby to the amateur gardener should undoubtedly be the blue-flowered shrub known as "plumbago". This homely but hardy plant will grow anywhere. It naturally prefers a good soil, and a sufficient rainfall, but if need be it will worry along without either. Fowls cannot scratch it up, and even the goat turns away dismayed from its hard-featured branches. The flower is not strikingly beautiful nor ravishingly scented, but it flowers nine months out of the year; smothered with street dust and scorched by the summer sun, you will find that faithful old plumbago plugging along undismayed. A plant like this should be encouraged -- but the misguided amateur gardener as a rule despises it.
The plant known as the churchyard geranium is also one marked out by Providence for the amateur; so is Cosmea, which comes up year after year where once planted. In creepers, bignonia and lantana will hold their own under difficulties perhaps as well as any that can be found. In trees the Port Jackson fig is a patriotic one to grow. It is a fine plant to provide exercise, as it sheds its leaves unsparingly, and requires the whole garden to be swept up every day.
Your aim as a student of Nature should be to encourage the survival of the fittest. There is a grass called nut grass, and another called Parramatta grass, either of which holds its own against anything living or dead. The average gardening manual gives you recipes for destroying these. Why should you destroy them in favour of a sickly plant that needs constant attention? No. The Parramatta grass is the selected of Nature, and who are you to interfere with Nature?
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