30 October 2011

Veggies on the verges

We bought our house nearly 30 years ago, from the original owner. She was widowed, almost blind, and about to move into a nursing home. The house had been built just after the First World War, a solid but simple working man's house that had been 'modernised' in the 1950's. For that reason, it was selling for a much lower price than the well-maintained houses in the more prestigious area up the hill.

When we first moved in, we found a thriving Italian community around us. It was easy to spot the houses owned by Italians - their verandahs had brick arches rather than metal-pipe fencing, and their front gardens were full of vegetables. Sometimes the vegetables extended onto the verge as well. Walking to the shops, we'd spot eggplants ripening, fig trees coming into leaf, rows of onions being harvested.

Other houses, like ours, had two squares of lawn bisected by a red cement path with a few roses along the fence and privet bushes on the boundary. The most exotic plant in our garden was a pink frangipani. Most gardens had been planted and developed over years, often in a fairly haphazard way. A few adventurous gardeners had started to introduce native plants, in non-linear, naturalistic settings. But overall the gardens in the area were neat and practical, unassuming but interesting.

Today the vegetable plots on the verge have mostly disappeared. Gardens that were once thriving are waist-high in weeds gone to seed. Their owners, who tended them with such care, have become the next generation to move into nursing homes. Some of the houses have been demolished and replaced by two story town-houses with instant gardens of flax and cordyllines. Others have been 'restored' to a grandeur that they probably never had originally.

Sometimes it's hard not to feel a sense of sadness as I walk around the area. An afternoon stroll becomes a reminder that nothing in this world is permanent. All that we strive for and labour over will one day no longer be ours, and will either decay or be replaced by someone else's work. I'm glad that the original owners of the houses can't see what has happened to their gardens.

Yet it's also a useful reminder to me not to place too much value on what I work on in this life. A pleasant garden is a joy, and gardening can be a wonderful way of relaxing and winding down. But perhaps there are better ways to spend my time than producing a perfect, weed-free lawn. (Other excuses for not weeding the lawn gratefully accepted!)

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