How does your garden grow?
There’s something about Germans and their fastidiousness over their gardens.
MY neighbours love to garden. A lot.
A typical day in the suburbs where I live is often punctuated by the hum, buzz or whirr of some electrical gardening implement. Step outside and you’re likely to spot someone either mowing the lawn, clipping the hedges, or shaping shrubs into perfect spheres.
One house, with a sprawling garden, has a robotic lawn mower that silently circles the perimeter, reversing and changing course whenever it collides into one of the life- sized ceramic roosters, goats or sheep that dot that garden.
Having previously lived in apartments with only balconies for our outdoors, I was thrilled when we finally moved into a house with its own garden. What more, it is a garden after my heart.
Namely, one that is not manicured.
I guess I’ve always held the garden of my childhood home in the rubber estate in Johor as a benchmark of how gardens should ideally be: slightly overgrown ( but orderly enough not to house snakes or iguanas) with a profusion of trees, bushes and shrubs. We had mango, rambutan and coconut trees interspersed with bougainvillea, morning glories, lilies, jasmine and marigolds amidst bountiful greenery. And of course, no self- respecting Indian household is complete without a thriving curry leaf bush!
I must mention, however, that both my late parents were avid gardeners and although our gardens would never match that of Versailles’, they were meticulous in pruning trees and bushes, snipping off dead buds, weeding, and cutting the grass.
Being a puteri lilin and averse to creepy crawlies, bugs and basically anything that stings, burns or bites, my duties back then as gar- dening greenhorn consisted of sweeping dead leaves, watering the plants, and sprinkling salt on snails. And frankly, besides minimal pruning, I’ve not developed further skills since.
Living now in an area several latitudes higher ( and centigrades lower) than Malaysia means that our present garden boasts different plant species. Besides “builtin” flowerbeds in which herbs and lavender thrive, we have a large walnut tree ( which apparently will soon rain its nutty bounty upon us come autumn), a sour cherry tree ( the harvest of which is now marmalade), firs, a lilac tree, hydrangeas and several varieties of roses. Perhaps Bonn’s climate is favourable to roses? Just about every garden here has roses growing like lalang!
Other plants, though, were foreign to me. I had no clue that amongst our herbs, we had lovage, which in German is called the “Maggi herb” because it has a similar smell and taste to Maggi soup seasoning.
There were also these clusters of tall stalks that drooped under the weight of their bunches of purple flowers. Their graceful arches actually formed a natural pergola under which I usually sat in the afternoons.
When I described it to a former English student ( who is a trained horticulturalist), she guessed that it was buddleia, commonly known as the “butterfly bush”. That explained the abundance of butterflies in my garden. However, to be sure she asked that I send her a couple of pictures via WhatsApp.
Her response was swift. “Yes, those are butterfly bushes but yours definitely need cutting. I can come to your house and do it for you.”
And come she did – armed with all necessary gardening imple- ments. I’d initially presumed that we’d make an event out of it; that she’d demonstrate how to prune after which, we’d spend the rest of her visit chilling under said butterfly bushes.
We ended up working in the garden for close to three hours – and just about every plant was pruned until I insisted she stop. Having a wry sense of humour, my student had remarked, “Usually you can tell from the garden, who lives there. Yours says there are ‘ interesting’ people here.”
My student’s visit had come on the heels of my mum- in- law’s visit a week earlier. She had come bearing jars of marmalade and a Kaercher. In case you’re wondering, the latter is a water- powered, high- pressure washer that is used to remove moss and lichen from garden paving or stone covered terraces.
Somehow I’d liked our terrace’s “shabby chic” look, complete with the odd dandelion or so that often take root in the crevices. I guess for my mum- in- law, it was simply “shabby.” So despite our protestations, and insisting that she needed the fresh air, she spent one Friday morning ridding our entire terrace of moss.
It definitely made a difference because we could finally see the original colour of the stones. Yet, I kind of missed the green. Perhaps it’s just my hankering for the tropics that has me hesitant to cut down or clear too much in my garden. After all, here in Europe you only see green for a very limited time every year.
But I guess my garden will always grow a little differently. And by my student’s reasoning, pique the neighbours’ interest.
Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Bonn. She’s looking forward to her walnut harvest. Follow her at facebook. com/ SambalOnTheSide.
roses seem to thrive everywhere. perhaps Bonn’s climate is favourable to roses. — reuters