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At night, coloured lanterns decorate a wire fence
Photo by Hannah McFarlane

Inspired by Gardens of History and Imagination, we at SUP decided to compare notes about our gardening adventures. We'd love to hear your stories, too (head over to our Facebook page to share your garden-making pictures, and for a chance to win a copy of the book!). Even within the SUP team we discovered a surprising diversity of gardens, from coastal balconies to bushland plots. Here's a little more about how our gardens grow ...

Hannah’s private oasis

Living in an inner-city apartment means I have had to get creative with my garden. My partner and I share a flat with housemates, and though we have no grass, the building is perched on a hill and there is a large balcony space with an expansive view looking east over the Glebe valley. With all our neighbours much lower than us, it has the feel of a private oasis, perfect for a morning cuppa and a crossword over breakfast. And the sunrises are to die for!

I don’t have the greatest green thumb, but over the last two years we have cultivated a thriving mint plant, cherry tomatoes, a dwarf lime tree, spring onions, basil, baby carrots and a handful of cheap and cheerful flowering plants from the local garden shop. It’s a patchwork of mismatched plants, found objects, second-hand furniture, and it’s a constant struggle to keep the possums out … but it’s mine and I adore it.

Denise’s potted garden

I live in a Victorian terrace house in Sydney’s inner west, with a little rear courtyard paved with higgledy-piggledy bricks, so our garden grows entirely in pots. This suits me, as I’m an optimistic but forgetful gardener. I have a deep respect for anything that can survive with only sporadic care. Container gardening is forgiving of this method: if a pot of something fails, you can pretend it never happened and start again. And pots can be dragged about and rearranged, whether to catch the sun or to create a forest backdrop for a game. We grow pretty, easy things (nasturtiums, zygocactus, bougainvillea), and things my four-year-old foreman likes to eat (mint, tomatoes, carrots).

Potted flowers and trees in a city courtyard
Photo by Denise O'Dea

Gardens of History and Imagination has made me look differently at our shifting jumble of pots. John Ramsland describes inner Sydney in the late 19th century, when ‘the average small terrace was occupied by at least six people’ and backyards like ours housed outhouses that were ‘filthy, congested, and frequently shared with neighbours’. Meanwhile Catherine Rogers charts the evolution of suburbs just a few kilometres further out, where gardeners sought a country idyll close to but independent of the city. In many ways our patch of Sydney must be unrecognisable from the same space a century ago. We have indoor plumbing, more rooms than people, and the dilettante’s luxury of growing food for fun rather than survival. But like those earlier residents, we use our garden for the practical (rubbish bins, clothesline, worm farm) alongside the beautiful, and our decisions about garden-making reflect the lives we’re living. The stories in this book show how much of a community’s history is revealed in its outdoor spaces.

Phil’s magic garden

When my kids were small(er) we lived in a tiny two-bedroom flat with a balcony that was big enough for a chair and little else. The balcony opened up onto a major road and it was filled with noise and fumes. There was a small scrappy garden in the concrete carpark downstairs, filled mostly with weeds, that seemed to attract a good supply of ladybugs and snails. My kids were fascinated by these little creatures and were always bringing them inside.

Two garden snails explore a bright yellow teapot
Photo by Phil Jones
After several months losing our Tupperware to snail habitats and having tiny holes poked in the lids of all our containers, we realised just how important it was for our kids to be able to get outside in a garden of their own.
We moved to a nearby house where there was room for a couple of chickens, where blue tongues basked in the sun by the barbecue, and where we could put in a vegie patch and tend to a worm farm. Now the kids regularly find spiders, slaters, stink-bugs and caterpillars but because they live in ‘our garden’ there is no longer the need to build them habitats and leave them around the house. Our largely unsuccessful vegie patch provides more butterflies than it does vegetables, but the rosemary and mint are bountiful and apparently make great ‘secret ingredients’ for magic potions.

Agata’s bush garden

My garden is a rather steep plot on the border of the Royal National Park, covered in grass and bracken, with palms, tree ferns, a few eucalypt trees and some bushes. Apart from bracken and tree ferns, we have many other types of ferns growing on the slope, which are some of my favourite plants. While over the years we have planted a lime tree, a Gymea lily, some grevilleas and more palms and ferns, we basically keep the garden fairly natural. Our garden-making is somewhat limited to removing fallen branches, sticks, weeds and dry leaves, in order to keep it clean of at least some of the inflammable material, as we live in a fire-prone area. We have tried to plant herbs on several occasions but sooner or later it all gets eaten, even the fruit of a hot chilli plant.

Dark green fern leaves in dappled sunlight
Photo by Agata Mrva-Montoya

We have shared the garden with many an animal over the years: possums, bush rats, snakes, etc. There was a resident deer for a few months. While this particular doe moved away, every now and then deer still stop by at night. After one of those visits my lime tree got completely defoliated. One summer, a red-bellied black snake took to sunbathing in the middle of the garden every afternoon. Apparently, having a red-belly black snake around is a not such a bad thing as they keep away brown snakes, which are also common locally but are much more dangerous. Finally, last year a pair of bower birds established a nest with the associated collection of blue plastic items. We are hoping that this pair is here is stay.

Gaynor Macdonald writes in Gardens of History and Imagination about ‘gardens as humanised space reveal[ing] what it means to be human in a non-human world’. I am content to share the garden with non-human animals and to retain the bush character of the space I am lucky to inhabit on the edge of the national park.

Susan's succulents

A potted crown of thorns plant shows off its white flowers
Photo by Susan Murray
I live in an apartment near Coogee that faces east. However our position on the south side of the building means that we get very little direct sunlight on our balcony. My garden is limited to shade-tolerant plants, mostly succulents. These also translate well to the office environment, so now that we have a sunny outlook in the office I have brought some here as well. I am quite good at propagating from cuttings – armed with my sachet of cutting powder, I repot broken leaves and stems. My greatest success this year has been growing a pineapple plant from the crown discarded from the Christmas ham! My favourite plant at the moment is a white Euphorbia milii (crown of thorns) given to me by my mother-in-law; it’s the only thing that flowers.

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