The terrible curse of the British garden magazine

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February 24, 2018

Lately I have been throwing books. As a teenager it was maths textbooks. As an adult it seems that it is British garden books and magazines when the author says something like he doesn’t water his garden in summer, except for the pots.




Monty Don doesn’t water his garden. He just makes sure he mulches.

I’m all for mulching, but in summer in southern Tasmania mulching the garden is far from enough.

In summer all I do, it seems, is turn water on and off. Drag hoses around. Turn taps on. Turn taps off. Un-tangle hoses. Turn taps on. Turn them off. Un-kink another hose kink. Cut out hose holes and rummage in boxes of hose bits to find hose joiners. Fine hose-joiners and cuffs and re-join hoses. Unscrew sprinkler heads and remove debris blocking out-lets. Screw on sprinkler heads. Unscrew dripper filters and remove debris then scrub with toothbrush to remove dirt. Go to local hardware shop and gaze at dripper hose, and shelves and shelves of dripper bits and water saver sprinkler heads. Have internal debates over the pros and cons of different systems. Leave local hardware shop without making a decision and vowing to go to proper farm irrigation outlet where someone can give proper advice.

Sometimes there are sudden great spouts of water, or sinister muddy oozes. Often these are beyond me and I have to call for help from my father (who has a lifetime of knowledge of the pipes of this property and their ways) my extremely handy husband or wonderful man (who helps us in the garden). Valleyfield is on the river, so it wasn’t long after white settlement here that people began to want to move water from the river from its natural course and bring bright runnels of it all over the property for crops. This is an old property and underground there are years and years of pipe technology. Great grand-father’s terracotta pipes. Grandfather’s rusting metal pipes. Father’s poly-pipes. It’s like the London Underground of water pipes below the grass. Put a spade in the ground and a great spouting of water is very often what you get. Turn on a tap and a wonderful spout of water is often what you, unaccountably, don’t get. Watering this garden is all about being in the know.

We have an electric pump to pump water from the river. Twenty metres away from the pump shed is a rusted old horse drawn pump from which water was once drawn up from the river to the house. 500 metres away is a great chimney which was once the chimney for a steam pump which once pumped water all around the farm through flood irrigation channels when the farm grew hops and apples.

There is no time to plant in summer, there is only time to water. There is no time to weed in summer. There is only time to water. I dream of sprinklers. I get into bed and think I hear the hiss of water through a hose I’ve forgotten to turn off. I stay up late, so the irrigation has been on long enough to give the garden a soaking that has point to it, rather than a dribble that doesn’t. I walk the garden by moonlight and under a great arc of stars to move them around and turn them off.

British gardeners must have time to garden in summer: to dead-head and cut back and do all those things that make the perennials put out fresh new mounds of growth and another flush of flowers; to weed paths; to sit on garden benches in frocks and hats and sip gin and tonics or pimms; time to have luncheon or afternoon tea. In Australia, garden furniture are just spots to lay out all the hose and poly-pipe parts while you nut out the latest irrigation crisis dressed in your keep the-blazing-aging-cancer-causing-sun-off king-gee overall.

Why all the watering? Why all the plantings of English cottage garden plants and trees instead of drought and heat tolerant natives? Because in our minds-eye are all the deep green gardens of England. The lush sappy soft plants and their bright flowers. All those wide green lawns spilling down to a ha-ha and white sheep on the green. Yew topiary and herbaceous boarders brim-full of tender moist ground loving plants. We are cursed. The terrible curse of the British garden magazine and the gardeners whose garden beds can get through the summer with just mulch.