A blunder which resulted in an accidental gardening success is just one of the many reasons why PETER CUNDALL finds the pursuit so marvellously addictive
Gardening blunder has a silver lining
Sometimes the most astonishing landscaping successes occur by accident or even by certain beneficial blunders.
In the early 1980s we bought an old house and three treeless hectares of overgrazed and impoverished soil in the Tamar Valley.
I immediately began enriching the soil to create a large, self-sufficient vegetable and fruit garden. At the same time I was busy planting a wide shelter-belt composed of Australian trees and shrubs, almost completely around our entire property.
I also began to gradually surround our home with fire-resistant, exotic plants, especially rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, roses and other ornamental shrubs and perennials.
One late winter’s day someone gave me a bundle of tiny, bare-rooted, pencilsized silver birch seedlings.
Most were about to come into leaf so had to be urgently planted.
At the same time I received an urgent call to join other conservationists in a massive protest against the attempt to dam the Franklin River which I and many others believed would destroy huge areas of our unique wilderness.
It was necessary to get the 200 tiny plants in the ground quickly, at least on a temporary basis with the intention of growing them to a decent size for my landscaping work.
My rotary hoe rapidly cultivated an 80m-long strip across an empty field and on the way back, dug another to create two parallel strips about 6m apart.
Into the roughly cultivated soil went the seedlings, shoved in almost at a walking pace and spaced about 3m apart.
The whole operation was carried out in just over an hour, giving enough time for the four-hour drive to Tasmania’s south west.
Over the following years I became too busy to lift the trees, all of which grew with such astonishing speed they finally became too big to move.
It was the best blunder I’ve ever made
Even when we stuff things up, sometimes these blunders can still produce amazing results
because a few years later we had an impressive, 80m-long avenue of very healthy young birch trees stretching across our paddock and they looked fantastic.
I mowed the rank grass and occasionally scattered blood and bone over root zones, causing the trees to grew so rapidly they started to seize so much light that even the grass started to die off.
I was forced to prune off all lower branches to allow in more light and this not only exposed the beautiful silvery trunks but provided enough dappled light for more plants to go in.
When my wife Tina dug up a large number of overcrowded hoop-petticoat daffodil bulbs, I grabbed the lot, enough to half-fill a bucket.
I was thinking about the accidental birch tree avenue. My handy rotary hoe cultivated a big area of leaf-enriched soil beneath the trees.
Rather than bother correctly planting the tiny bulbs, I simply scattered them over the cultivated surface, almost like sowing seeds.
An extra-shallow cultivation was enough to turn them in, burying them just below the surface.
Since then, bulbs and corms of bluebells, sea-green ixias, pink and yellow daffodils, jonquils, tulips, hyacinths, freesias, snowflakes, snowdrops and sparaxis have gone in, some forming great drifts of colour and fragrance beneath and around the leafy avenue.
The jonquils and early daffodils and dazzling-yellow hoop petticoats are already flowering.
Within weeks the Spanish bluebells will be in full display with the first tulips and by late October the sea-green ixias – which have now multiplied so there are thousands of them – will be blooming furiously.
As for the sparaxis, they have now selfseeded to form enormous colonies of mixed colours are now part of a glorious meadow garden beneath the trees.
An unexpected success, but another reason why gardening can become so marvellously addictive and satisfying.
Even when we stuff things up, sometimes these blunders can still produce amazing results.