Useful And Fantastic: History In The Garden
Val Yule suggests there's much more than meets the eye in many a garden.
In Aberdeen in Scotland our rich garden earth was as deep as the glaciers that had formed it, and had been tilled for 2000 years, and was still rich. Sometimes we unearthed a few interesting bits of 18th century plates, with elaborate detail – but was there anything else left from those 2000 years?
The ancestral earth in Aberdeen needed no fertiliser, a stick would grow if placed in the ground, and digging even five feet deep could still be rich topsoil. No wonder farmers from Europe have been innocently wrecking the fragile Australian skin of earth where things could grow – letting it blow or pour away, taking out its sparse nutrients.
But even in Australia, if you ever come to live in a house which has been lived in before, there may be archeological studies waiting for you in the garden.
In inner city Collingwood in Melbourne we had a house with a garden all round, so when the local children came out of the Saturday afternoon matinees, they would run around our house, playing the film they had seen, whether it was Casanova or a war film or worse, some spy or terror film where re-enactment included real torture to unfortunates tied to the verandah posts with piano wire. The most successful replay ever was Treasure Island. When they dug in our back yard they found so much treasure! Bones – they were bits of skeletons! Medicine bottles – they were Poison! Coins! – they were Treasure itself! Bits of old jewellery – Gold!
Our home at Mount Waverley, however, had been built by the previous owners where only a year before, there was virgin bush – and still some of the gum-trees remained, mercifully spared from the bulldozer.
Out at Mount Waverley, you could dig and find stuff from the building site, and bits of toys and plant-pots, and the like. The most interesting was discovering that a whole underlay of crazy-paving paths was buried underneath the herbage that had grown over and composted itself over it.
That was Layer One.
Layer two, also getting buried, were the concrete pathways of the first owner, and bits of model railway line set down by the second, our parents.
Layer three - well, that will be us.
Whether the home will ever have a chance of becoming like the ancient cities of Troy or Jericho, layer upon layer upon layer, depends on the developers who are hungry to scrape away everything, garden and all, to erect Units with less than 50 years life expectancy.
But - if you are going to reconstruct your garden, have a neighborhood Treasure Hunt for the kids to dig it over for you first.