I want to end on a good note about this, so let’s start with the bad. There is no excuse for ugliness in book publishing, Clive Blazey. This book has one very poor typesetting decision (repeated several times) and has been abominably proofread. In fact one could safely assume that it can’t have been proofread. May I point out to the author that the same care which he requires us to take of our garden design is no optional matter when it comes to a book.
I won’t talk of editing, as the passionate voice of the author may require a slack hand in that regard.
Few people could be further from being a gardener than am I. In fact, when we took possession of a house with a small amount of land last year, a friend visited whom I bombarded with questions – is this a weed? This? And what about this? He was impressed by my complete ignorance. The ‘garden’ we now owned was a detestable thing with not one concession to beauty. It consisted entirely of yaccas and agaves on account of their being water-cheap. Dirt-cheap in fact.
After a month, I mentioned to our neighbour across the road that I hated them and they were all going. The next morning, whilst still in bed, I heard the sound of chopping out the front. By the time I’d popped some clothes on and gone out to investigate, we had nothing left there but bare, sad looking soil. Step one was finished.
There was nothing for it now but to buy things and plant them, something neither of us had ever done before. I was completely intimidated by the prospect, not least because in my observation of others gardening, it never seemed to be fun. It was a chore involving lots of preparation and grunting. Not to mention barking crossly at the underlings involved. But in fact it couldn’t have been easier. We randomly put in plants all of which were happy with full fierce sun and were drought tolerant but looked nice too. This included several ground covers so that we could stop the weeds and help the soil.
If I had those first days over again, I’d do things differently. We didn’t prepare the soil nearly well enough. Still, the fact is that most things we planted lived and even thrived. In order to get a garden that was flowering in summer, which was our aim, we followed the straight-forward advice of buying the things in nurseries that were flowering. Our first impression is that gardening was too easy.
A year down the track, instead of an arid desert landscape of horrible succulents, we have a pretty, chaotic teensy cottage garden thing happening. But it isn’t enough. Like all slightly interested gardeners, I wanted more, and I wanted to improve what’s there. Mistakes were made which I wanted to fix.
Which brings me to this book. A major hope for me was to create a garden that would be aesthetically pleasing in summer. Serendipitously, for Blazey this is a vital consideration. We have fierce, debilitating summers which are only going to get worse. Blazey not only wants gardens which neutralise, as much as possible, that summer heat, but he is concerned with the psychological aspect as well. One ongoing theme is colours not only that fit together, but which counter the weather. For the dry heat of my part of the world, he wants cool colours. I couldn’t agree more. Some of the garishly extravagant pinks and reds one sees around the place are so wrong. I put in some flowers so blindingly white that you could land an aircraft by tme in the dead of night. It just isn’t right for summer and detracts from the more gentle colours around it.
The book has short guides to what is going on in the garden, basic health of soil, the chain of events keeping plants alive, the general things one should consider in the design. The Diggers Club does something that apparently is novel, though it seems obvious – it gives a guide to the cold zone and hot zone of your area. Each plant’s description includes a code which shows the zones it can be planted in, as well as various attributes such as deciduous, when it flowers, high and width when grown.
Most notably, Blazey is strongly anti-eucalyptus, whilst happy with suitable imports. Eucalyptus trees do not do a good job of providing shade, which is such a critical requirement in the dry hot heat of Adelaide. So pleased to hear this. I would dearly love to see Adelaide covered in lush greenery that provides the shade which will provide livability to houses, as well as make it far easier to walk. If we don’t have suitable trees, there are at least several months of the year in Adelaide where it is simply impossible to walk. It’s that simple.
That leaves the main part of the book, a reference to many plants which he sees as viable for the various conditions of Australia. I love it, I’ve gained many ideas from it, but nonetheless, to me it makes a basic presumption that he can afford to, since his gardens are huge, but normal householders can’t. A reference like this has to discuss root issues. There are sites online that do this, but I would much preferred it to have been a given in this guide. I think in general I would have loved more guidance for very small gardens.
In summary, a highly informative, slightly eccentric, passionate guide to the potential of suburban gardening in Australia. I thoroughly recommend it.