A modest little house stands alone, surrounded by a disorderly sea of green. Not that its garden is completely unkempt, but it is hardly a neatly regimented English garden, nor is it a beautifully manicured Mediterranean oasis. It is chaotic, colourful and cheerful.
Behind the house, small square paving stones lead upwards past a pergola which leans over to one side under the weight of a well-established wisteria and is framed by clusters of tall papyrus stems. Beyond, there are smaller randomly-placed bushes and plants. Frankly, it is rather a mess, but you could say it is a pretty mess. Screening the house from peeking eyes stands a five-metre-high mass of bamboo whose fronds sway around in the breeze. Between a bare, blackened dead tree trunk and an acacia tree, hangs a faded hammock. It is not a large space and tapers to a point, bordered on both sides by the concrete walls of two neighbouring gardens.
It is a shady spot, a peaceful place, somebody’s secret retreat.
I saw it for the first time on a sunny, golden Autumn afternoon when we came to view the property. The place had been empty for about a year and the garden was completely parched after two months of drought. When I stepped out to explore the overgrown space behind the house, the first thing to strike me was a rusty, old, lopsided pergola, strangled by an overgrown jungle of various weeds, vines and other plants. Upon closer inspection, I discovered the back of the structure was literally an old bedframe, held in place by rampant greenery entwined around and through the rusty bedsprings. Intriguing!
Venturing higher, I spotted strings of pearls, plastic ones that is, randomly draped around a huge Yukka tree with a trunk easily as thick as a man’s thigh. Were the beads possibly left-overs from some previous Christmas decorations? I wondered…
To continue my explorations, I was obliged to duck under a tangle of droopy, low-hanging fronds from a bottle-brush tree, almost knocking myself out on a tiny, suspended wooden bird house. From the look of the dusty grey cobwebs coating the interior I could tell it had obviously long since been abandoned by any feathered inhabitants. Curiouser and curiouser!
Unable to access the far end of the property as access was barred by a huge, untidy pile of dead branches, I was obliged to turn back, and promptly came face-to face with a two-metre-high tower of upturned flowerpots threaded onto a steel pole. Each one of these had been filled with earth, and sprouting from four or five of them were the dried-up thread-like remains of some form of hanging vegetation. Presumably it was meant as a statement. ‘Art for Art’s sake’, I supposed. From this angle, it held centre stage against a tall patch of impenetrable bamboo, strategically placed to shield the house. Whoever could have lived here? Was it all just a nonsensical mess? Or had the garden all been carefully organized by a genius? I wanted to meet these ‘Baba Cool’ gardeners!
I had no idea what many of the exotic-looking plants were called in this hotchpotch of unusual plant-life growing in what looked like wild abandon amidst weeds and dried grasses. It would have been so easy to miss the minute, hand-made, clay model of an African woman washing her clothes placed atop a smooth, white rock next to a clump of violets. By then though, I was on the lookout for the weird, wacky or wonderful!
It was the intricately carved Buddha statue I found hidden in the centre of a sprawling Brugmansia which finally clinched it for me. It was seated on a flat, olive-green pebble, nestling within four stout branches of this small but deadly Angel’s Trumpet tree. Winding their way around the statue’s arms were creeping vines, anchoring it firmly to the tree. It felt reminiscent of that ancient Cambodian temple, Angkor Wat, the “Tomb Raider” temple which is totally invaded by gigantic tree roots. I was enchanted!
The garden had completely bewitched me.
We have come to an agreement, she and I. Not that she has tamed me, for that shall never be so, but nonetheless, we rub along together peacefully enough.
Up at my farthest point, she has installed a squat plastic container with a door at the bottom, and from where she pulls out her black magic now and again. It was unpleasant when she first disturbed me with her sharp spade, opening up my lid of hard-baked, crusty earth to tip in her mixture of dark, rich compost. Soon enough I understood though, as I felt energizing goodness seeping into the depths of my soul.
I love her too when the relentless, scorching summer sun bears down, and she drags out a long, yellow, coiled snake. From the mouth of her serpentine slave, she then revives me with the precious water I crave and invigorates my wilting babies’ thirsty roots.
Sometimes though, she tries to catch me unawares when she creeps stealthily around the corner armed with those dreaded secateurs behind her back. At terrible moments like that, I cringe and wonder which of my babies she is about to try and tame. I do not think she will ever conquer my sweet wild-child Jasmine though, no matter how harshly she cuts and prunes. At other times, she attempts to wage war on poor Daisy or defenseless little Clover, furiously plucking and pulling at them with a vengeance. Occasionally she might win one of these tiny battles, although as I have said, I will never permanently succumb to her wishes.
Still, I have noticed the pleasure she takes from watching me grow, blossom and bloom. When she comes to sit and rest for a while upon the old, twisted log she has placed under the pergola, I have my babies flutter their petals and then, Show-Off that I am, I bask in the admiration showing in her eyes.
Yes, we enjoy a great partnership when all’s said and done.