How does your gar­den grow?

There’s some­thing about Ger­mans and their fas­tid­i­ous­ness over their gar­dens.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING -

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

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