I am privileged to live on acreage in southeast Queensland, best known as Australia’s Sunshine State. For the past twenty years I have created a garden there (with my wife providing horticultural direction) and it is now a beautiful wonderland of peace and tranquility.
Yet Australia is the world’s driest continent, so they say, and drought is a fact of life. We recently lived through what came to be known as the worst drought in century with many weather experts and pundits suggesting it may well have been the worst drought in a thousand years.
Whatever its timeframe, the impact was brutal. I readily acknowledge that losing elements of a garden is nothing compared to the unimaginable suffering of those people living in drought-ravaged areas of Africa, for instance. I still count my blessings every day for what I have.
Yet, there is a sense of loss that you carry inside when you see plants – trees, shrubs, ferns, fungi – wither and die despite your best efforts to keep them alive. Almost all of them I planted. I can recall digging the holes and preparing the soil for almost all of them. I remember when I first started this folly and finding that I had to use a crowbar to break open the ground. That was a sobering moment though I think I drank heavily later to ease the sorrow of knowing that no garden was ever going to come easily on this property.
But I persisted and the more I planted, the more the property changed. Nature is extraordinary in the way one element nurtures another. Plants really do thrive on being part of a group. Now, where once I used to break my back, I can dig with my bare hands (most of the time!) and it is a beautiful sensation to dig into soil and feel its capacity to sustain life.
So, we eventually created an enchanting environment in which your heart soars as you survey the beauty around you and your inner being thrives on the sustaining ambience of being immersed in a natural ecosystem. It has rained ‘properly’ for three years now and the lushness of the garden is inspiring. Well, hell yeah, the bloody weeds grow like fury and they would like to take over the whole property but diligence and sheer bloody persistence keeps them reasonably in line.
Still, there is this nagging nervousness in the back of your mind that says the big dry will return. It is as inevitable as the sunrise. We are getting it in small doses lately and it just means our water bill goes u when we pay our rates. At least we have a substantial source to draw on. In the bad days watering was forbidden and showers were limited to 4 minutes. It was difficult being human but I can only imagine it as soul-destroying for the plants as they baked day after day after day, shrivelling as their nutrients depleted.
It was hideous to watch and no matter how many hours I spent trying to salvage most things, the losses cut like a knife. The good seasons of late have enabled me to plug most of the gaps and make some areas even better. But I know nature is going to show her dark side again and I fear the pain. It would be easy to give up and flee but that’s not the kind of gumption you need to create a garden in the first place. A good dollop of madness is a real help!
So, we push on and take as much delight as we can from all our friends – and their friends, too: birds, butterflies, bees, wasps, snakes, cane toads, spiders, rats and others (yes, nature has some funny ways and there truly IS a price to pay for everything).
I try to push that nagging nervousness away but it persists. I know what’s coming, inevitably. I just seek the courage to meet it – and beat it if I can. And be grateful for whatever I can salvage.
Acknowledgement: thoughtfactory for drought photo