Legends from our own lunchtimes

Saturday, March 22, 2008


By more than one measure, Sylvia was a tough old thing, with a few too many years of hardship under her belt.

She was our neighbour and could almost have been one of that kind of old lady who frightened children so much they may have considered her to be a witch. That she could coerce any living material out of her tired and sour garden was evidence enough to any adult that indeed she had some sort of magical power, although whether these were of the black variety or some other shade could only be left to conjecture.

Her back yard was entirely given over to agriculture in the style of many of her vintage, and was laid out in beds with walkways between them, each walkway covered in lawn and neatly edged with any bit of scrap timber or iron that had been to hand, supported on a variety of old pipes and stakes.

Perhaps I was exaggerating a little when I suggested the lawns were neatly edged. The reality was that she trimmed or dug the edges with some vigor, and over the years the lawns had receded to an area barely wide enough to walk along, while the hard dirt at the edges had steadily increased their encroachment until they were wider than the lawn they were supposed to be edging.

The garden beds had been worked to within an inch of their useful life, with all unwanted organic material being viciously dispatched to a better life in the hereafter, and the half-century of depletion of mineral and organic reinforcement had taken it's toll. In some places the soil was so hard that it defied any attempt to even scratch the surface. Plants were inserted into whatever dusty bits were left, and commanded to grow.

We didn't think it was particularly attractive at the time, and used to refer to it as "gardening by the scorched earth method".

After here passing, we eventually bought her place, and renovated her garden, and thought little more of what once was there until travelling a little south of Bourke last year, when we came across a landscape filled with bulldust and baked clay.

We wondered at the irony of being so far from the coast, yet being reminded so strongly of our former neighbour's little beach-side garden.


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