Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Fronting up

In this past six months dandelions have become my favourite flower in the garden. They are yellow ellipses, linking unfinished plantings and allowing the beds to roll to an stop without ever committing to an end. They bob on single high stems and offer a lightness of colour and spirit I've grown to love. I've looked around for something more socially acceptable for the front yard but every yellow I find is too thick, too obvious, too much - a series of exclamation marks with no nuance and suggestion of further, interesting and specified things to come.

But to cultivate these plants deliberately is another, rather more radical proposition. I'm all for serendipity and I do believe a weed is just an un-appreciated plant but encouraging the yellow dots to thrive and multiply, even when they are exactly what I want in the space, goes against the expectations of the neighbourhood, I'm sure. Al already struggles with the state of our verge and lawn, and while I'm not so worried about what the neighbours say, I can feel a little uncomfortable standing out like a sore thumb - the slum on the street.

But then I think, what's it matter? Like most front yards, ours isn't well used. It's the front stage, the (inexpertly) made up face, denying any business end out back. There's something confronting but satisfying in seeing a different front yard. In Canberra, I saw one laid out in a traditional and stilted manner, but there were aubergines where roses would be, and basil as the prim little border. I stopped and looked, and looked again, and now it remains in my mind after all the other yards, with their iceberg roses and agapanthus, have faded into a mass of nothing much.

What I would love, even more than the ellipses, would be to walk down the path to my door through rustling wheat, shoulder high and golden, a mini-field, the ultimate in mass planting. Or through the lawn grown out, aged and diversified into a meadow, in the way of many front lawns and verges in Canberra, where the drought had turned the suburbs golden and dry. It would be a place for birds to eat at the seeds (and snakes would steer clear), and a counter-point to the rather formal and very elegant white house in which we happily live.

People in decorating magazines say paint your rooms boldly and if it doesn't work out you can always re-paint; I guess the same is true for your garden. But my houses are always cream on the inside, and I suspect for all my fancies I'll end up with lovely conformity out the front and zucchinis out the back.


kate said...

One of my favourite houses near my Mum's place is a corner block, where there is no backyard, so the old man who lives there plants all his veggies out in the front. On the main road, near the tramstop, so I always knew what seedlings I should be planting soon.

I have veggies in the front yard now, but we also have a high brick fence, so it's not so brave. The neighbours over the road have a beautiful pomegranate hanging over their front fence, which is formal and edible, perhaps that's a nice place to start. Or sunflowers. When in doubt my partner plants sunflowers.

Kris said...

I love the sound of your front yard. And your partner sounds like an eminently sensible kind of a person: when in doubt plant sunflowers is pretty good advice for life, I think.

nutmeg said...

Or a Cammomile Lawn out front - I've always wanted one since I read Mary Welesley's (sp?) book with that title. I love walking on herbs and smelling the scent of their crushed leaves. Due to the slope of our block we don't have scope for one :-(