WHEN the weather is winter with a capital ‘w’ and no mercy, as it is this August day, I think of the indomitable gardening spirit of Aunt Peggy. She grew a garden wherever she lived, from pokey boarding houses in inner Melbourne to rented rural houses on poor land, to the place she finally called home, in the foothills of the Dandenongs.
Vincent van Gogh's The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in winter
There was fuel and food rationing and she was doing it tough. It was mid-August and she had enough wood for a while. She notes in her journal, “It is very heavy wood but oh it is good and goes a very long way”.
"There is a little breath of spring, almost as if it is cautiously putting one foot into winter to see if the coast is clear, even though I know it is going to pour and freeze. Yet there is something spellbinding about this first waft of blossom.
"There is a white blossom tree here just inside the fence, thank heavens. The neighbour says, 'Oh that’s just a seedling cherry plum, the birds drop the stones. What a curse!' And she gives the tree a malevolent look. Why is it a curse? I had a lovely dream of a garden entirely planted by birds. What could be lovelier?
"It isn’t out yet but it is letting me know it won’t be long and I thanked heaven for birds and went out on the road and picked up a shovelful of nourishment for it thoughtfully provided by the baker’s horse. I made a mulch of it but kept it away from the trunk."
"The bird planted tree is out in all its glory. It is most exquisite like delicate white lace. The shape of the tree is unbelievably beautiful: one side gracefully dipping almost to the ground, nowhere thick or ungainly (possibly because of its “sour fruit” no interest has been taken in it), and no devastating pruning hand at work.
"Yesterday the sky was blue and I took half an hour off to look at it from a chair. It seemed to me lovely. Today the sky is grey and I have yet to see a more exquisite thing, delicate, light, each softly rounded flower outlined against this grey background. I only realised today that white is unbelievably beautiful against grey."
"The white blossom tree is still gently moving about just enough to draw attention to herself. She is sheltered and her petals have not begun to fall. I would write a poem about her if I could."