Useful And Fantastic: Purposes Of A Wild Cottage Garden
Val Yule has a theory that plants flourish from being looked at.
My Surprise Wild Cottage Garden has many purposes: -
• So passers-by are always surprised and delighted by what is next in flower.
• So I can give people and op-shops cut flowers, plants, cuttings and bunches of parsley. Sometimes I give a flower to children on the train.
• For fresh fruit and vegetables - although often these are mini-vegetables
• For more pleasant, healthy and creative exercise than a gym
• For outdoors exercise, which you dont get in a gym
• To encourage wild-life.
• To give me pleasure to look out on and be out in.
• To develop character in facing adversity and frustration (that is, oxalis, onion-weed and some horrible grass-weeds).
• To use my ingenuity to make a garden that uses minimum water, costs as little as possible, and requires as little mowing as possible
• A garden that can get by with as little or as much work as I have time to give
• To be such a garden that when this house must eventually be sold, people will rise up and say This place MUST NOT be turned into shoddy developer's units. WE MUST KEEP this eccentric and livable house for people to live in; for people who will also want to keep this wild cottage garden for everybody to enjoy and children to play in.
• I have a lovely theory that plants flourish from being looked at. They dont even need to be sung to or talked at. You just sit in the garden and watch them growing. Nobody is allowed to refute this beautiful theory.
• When the garden is full of plants there is less room for weeds. Self-sown seeds are encouraged. Because I am not a totalitarian weeder, new plants often grow - seeded from elsewhere in the garden, but sometimes I have no ideas where they have come from
• Plants are given their chance, and from the ones that flourish I take cuttings and self-sown seeds to plant elsewhere in the garden, so it is basically a garden of 'What will grow here'.
• Plants are trained to need as little watering as possible in the summer. When they dont expect to be watered, their roots draw up water from down deep. Watering can interrupt their capillary process. So except for new plants just getting established, they dont get watered except when they start to droop, showing that the capillary process is faltering anyway. Then they get enough water to go right down.
I keep an eye on spontaneous seedlings, to see what they may turn out to be, because, having come up from seed here, they show they can survive in our garden. Many come from the compost or plants that have spread their seeds, and are easily recognised - such as tomatoes, pumpkins, potatoes, daisies, silver beet, love-in-a-mist, forget-me-nots, prunus seedlings, arum lilies. Others are strangers, and I keep an eye on them to see what they are before I may ruthlessly pull them out. Among the strangers that have appeared have been a passion-fruit that was laden for four years until drought-stricken; a baby oak-tree, black-wattle, little black-hoods cobra lilies, orange Californian poppies, golden myrtle, several Mysteries still not identified, Australian century - and I am afraid, weeds.
• When we first came here, in the 1960s, parts of this hill-top garden were virgin bush land or cleared to be just bare or weedy earth. When we first dug these pristine areas, we found the topsoil was mostly 1 centimeter deep, with clay below – after hundreds of thousands of years of forest gum-lear drop. (What a contrast to our ancestral earth in Aberdeen, Scotland. Our garden there was over 2000 years old, never needed fertiliser was ever needed, a stick grew if placed in the ground, and digging even five feet deep still found rich topsoil. No wonder farmers from Europe have been innocently wrecking Australia, a different sort of country.) We compost and mulch, and now we can dig at least a spades-depth before reaching clay or grey powder.
• I plant the nature strip with 'anything left over', and leave it to grow without watering or mowing. What survives, lives. Cars can park on the gutter side, no matter, plants will grow again, and there is room for the bins to go out. What survives beside the two trees is agapanthus, 3 sorts of gazanias, five sorts of daisies (white, purple and yellow), Australian 'iris', jasmine, honeysuckle, periwinkle, freesias, watsonias, two sorts of iris, ixias, gladiolus, snowdrops, 'red ground-cover', a flowering succulent, vinca, geranium, forget-me-not, a sh! baby oak-tree, occasionally Australian century - and well, yes, some weeds.
• The front lawn is being receded into a small place to park and clean a car, but in which two sorts of daisies and many clumps of freesias also grow. (And dandelions and grass-weeds.) The garden is for 'survivors' - what will grow with minimum watering. The frontage is mainly Australian shrubs plus bulbs and daisy undercover. Camellias, azaleas, prunus, exotics, climbers and a lemon tree grow against the fence and house, and other trees are a silver birch, ancient gum-tree and mini-dogwood. Low growing hardy plants are spreading up the grassy section of the drive. Sometimes 'fairy toadstools, red and white, grow under the birch, and there are many other fungi too.
• Pot-plants. I always have cuttings and often seedlings growing - often self-sowns that I want to find out what they are. Some tomatoes in old drums get maximum sun, and flowering plants sit in tubs by the font and back doors.
• The back garden is designed to be the view as you come down the passage, and to take in the trees behind the fence as part of the view, Japanese style. It full of about everything that will grow here (see list) - the once- lawn is now reduced to mere tracks and a dumping ground.
There are three compost-heaps, one growing potatoes, one to take from and one for dumping. There are four black compost bins, one for worms and kitchen waste, two for general garden waste and one against a sunny wall will hopefully cook the green weeds in it.
• Self-sown. I always check unknown spontaneous seedlings, because they have shown they can survive in our garden. - Hence a passion-fruit that was laden for four years until drought-stricken; tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins, self-sown seeds from our flowers, the baby oak-tree, prunus, little black-hoods, arum lilies - and I am afraid, weeds.
• Organic gardening. I have a bag each of lime, gypsum, blood-and-bone, potting-mix, a 'complete fertiliser' and a few other bits and pieces, and they last ten years, added to the compost as needed.
I tried RoundUp for the oxalis, and it flourished more, so use no weedkiller, only exercise weeding. For aphids I use soapy water and finger-and-thumb. For a white cottony scale on the dogwood I used a kitchen detergent. For snails and slugs a night-patrol, since my snails love snailbait. Occasionally a spray is needed for black spot on the roses or I have to put down ratkiller when rats eat my green tomatoes, and even broccoli PLANTS down to the stalk, and the tips of the lemon-tree that grew from a pip.
• The wild-life. Mallards have nested and hatched their ducklings in the jungle. Delicate and rare Banded Rail swamp-birds have stayed for periods in the hot summer. Lorikeets, kookaburras visit. But small birds do not appear - there are too many predators.