Every morning at about 9 o'clock, I go out into the garden. I put my boots on, and my gardening gloves, and I am filled with a sense of happy anticipation. I go to look at the work I did the previous day; sometimes I walk round to see if the wombat has done any digging in the night. Blue wrens follow me at a distance, hoping I'm going to start digging. A flock of rosellas pick through the grass. If I stand and look beyond the fence, my eyes take in the shining glimpse of the river below me, the willows turning yellow, the soft rounded shape of the hillside where a mob of roos are grazing, the blue grey bush, and the wisps of cloud. Always, it is very quiet. Always, I am drawn back into the space immediately around me, this 2 or 3 acres that I am making into a garden.
If I had done nothing here, I could still have looked out of the windows of our new house and seen beautiful views. Or, I could have made my landscaping job easier, by opting for swathes of lawn and trees, and perhaps a gravel circuit walk - like Capability Brown did for many country estates in England in the eighteenth century. I already have the water feature! (Capability Brown would doubtless have contrived to damn the river, and create a natural looking lake with a cascade at the bottom of it.)
Instead, I started gardening. Firstly, I planted trees. I planted my favourites from the Northern hemisphere with great delight - beeches, a larch, oak, silver birch, ash, as well as natives, including 86 eucalyptus mannifera along the driveway. As they get bigger, they frame the views of the country beyond.
(As I write this, I'm looking at a Margaret Preston print on my wall of yachts on Sydney Harbour. The yachts are in the distance, but framed by the shapes of black trees in the foreground, which reach up to make a lacy pattern with the clouds above them. Although the trees to some extent obscure the view of the yachts, yet they focus your attention upon them.)
I dug beds for bubs and perennials. On the Northern side of the garden, the soil is rich, deep, and easy to dig. The only problem is that it is, or was, essentially a paddock, and weeds come up all the time. I chucked down trailer loads of mulch. I planted the things neighbours gave me out of their gardens, and plants I brought over from our old garden in town, and plants I bought at markets, mostly going for hardy perennials - achilleas, seaside daisies, michaelmas daisies, wallflowers, foxgloves, lavender, all my old favourites, flowers I remember from childhood in Staffordshire. Is that why I love them so? I weeded, watered, tried to protect them from rabbits and wombats and cockatoos and frost, and from the burning afternoon sun in summer.
I made paths with river gravel - back breaking work, the one garden job I don't enjoy is shovelling gravel. I brought it up from the river in buckets, which I could only half fill because the gravel is so heavy. But the garden had to have paths, to lead you from one garden space to another. There are still so many more I want to construct, but progress with them is very slow.
This is the part of gardening which is landscaping; shaping and re - forming the land itself. My landscaping son would probably say you do this before you start planting anything., but I have done it as I've gone along. I planted a row of lavender, then made a gravel path in front of it. I built a garden bed under the lilacs, then hauled huge rocks over from the old Franklin house site to define its border, (most were subsequently moved a second time.)
Sometimes, the landscaping and gardening happen simultaneously. I began this year to dig out the hillside on the eastern side of the house. The ground here is very stony, the spade strikes stone immediately, I wriggle it around to find a point where I can lever up the rock. Progress is very slow. A pile of rocks and stones slowly accumulates, and after a few hours, there is a patch of diggable earth. Leaning on my spade, feeling buggered, but satisfied bordering on excited, I conceive the idea of making terraces up and down the slope. The rocks sit there ready, and using the spade to level and shift the earth around, I slowly figure out how to do it, and haul the rocks into place.
But the part of gardening I love best of all is the late autumn tidying up of the older beds. The plants here are established, have worked out their relationships with each other, and are getting on with business. There is a general messiness at this time of the year, gaura, dahlias, achilleas, all need to be cut right down, weeds pulled out to make way for the poppy and delphinium seedlings which are already coming up, and plants which are in the wrong position (a lovely geranium stuck behind a looming old fashioned hellebore), or are getting too big for their boots (achilleas again), need to be dug out and moved.
I always wanted to be able to paint, and this feels to me a bit like what I imagine painting is like. Painting with plants. The picture, however, is forever evolving and changing. It is a dynamic thing, that emerges from the relationship between my and the garden.