It's been dramatically cold here for the last week or so. Brave, late roses have been snap frozen, the rhubarb has been battered down by hard frosts and walking out the door we are faced with such expanses of white it's easy to believe it snowed in the night.
Most dramatically of all, we came home on Friday to hot water cascading down the walls. The pipe in the roof had burst under pressure from the frozen water, flooding the back section of the house: books destroyed, cds soaked, carpets and lino sodden, walls and ceilings marked. It was a domestic catastrophe. So the weekend, which was to be filled with fun and friends, was spent in a motel at night and in a freezing deunded house during the day as we grappled with the people who descend when these things happen.
The garden was a blessing. Al, with Nell on his back, dealt with assessors as they assessed and an army of tradies who quoted, ripped things up, blew things dry, put things in and told us we should probably re-wire and it will cost about $7000 (sob!). Lucy and I spent a good five hours out of the way, out the back. I enriched the asparagus bed, built up and green manured last season's corn beds, poured on generous amounts of liquid fertiliser, made my own weed tea and tied up various floppy things. A productive day.
Lucy was even busier. She helped with the sowing (according to her, all the seeds were corn kernals - a not so subtle hint about summer plantings?) but basically did her own thing. She scooped octopi out of the spinach beds (a great help - those critters wreak havoc among the seedlings), fed 'happy beetles', caught the bus all over the place, buzzed me with her helicopter, took me for a few rides on her patrol boat, made dozens of lattes in her cafe down by the proteas, swam a few laps with Otto up near the strawberries, designated me 'Pete' [Cundell] and helped me with the wheelbarrrow (which to an untutored eye looks like a bucket) and had other amazing adventures.
Sharing time and space with Lu reminded me of the importance of gardens in my own childhood. My earliest memories are set in a garden: I can see Dad laughing at my face as I ate a radish when I was not much older than Lu; I remember again and again sucking the water from the hose and then scooting around the corner to wee next to the tap - such a tickley, naughty feeling! It's a joy to see Lu build her inner life through gardens, just as I did, although the foci are different. I spent my days making fairies out of flowers and building nests for kittens; Lucy more often than not re-enacts dramtic moments from Skippy (usually casting herself as Jerry) and does a lot of work with heavy machinery.
When I'm writing these things down. I'm conscious of the threads we are weaving together, threads that give form to the histories of my family's gardens, and our life together. I'm also aware that these histories are largely untold. Thanks to my Grammy, who anecdotalises everything, I've grown up with stories about life in my mother's extended family. I know a lot about my father's family too, because he's a bit of a family history buff, and because the lives of our forebears were bound up in the geo-politics Dad finds so interesting. But I know almost nothing of the gardens that must surely have played such a big role in the domestic lives and wellbeing of Mum and Dad and their mothers and fathers, and so on down the line. Gardening is a big theme of social history, but I suspect it's largely lost in our own family histories. Yet understanding how our people gardened might give us a stronger sense of who they were and are, and perhaps, why we do the things we do. It's fascinating to know that my great grandfather saw the pyramids in WW1 but I'd like to know if his wife grew a choko vine over the chicken shed.