Mixed Feelings on Leaving the Garden

I cut down the bougainvillea last week. The house has been slowly disappearing behind its cerise embrace since we moved in 21 years ago. The front entry and a little patch at the top of the roof were the only bogan-free bits of house remaining.

After three days of grappling with thorns, picking around live electric wires, dangling over the edge of the roof, chopping, cutting, sawing and mulching, an entire house has emerged from behind the camouflage. Then, this weekend, another three days prepping and painting the front to give a fresh new coat that looks attractive on the real estate website.

It’s a falling market and the real estate agent in expensive suit tells us we need to spruce it up if we want to get a good price. The house has appreciated by over 700% since we bought. A good price? Half that amount would be ridiculous profit just for living in your own home. But he hooks me in and now I work my fingers to the bone doing the place up to get a ‘good price’. Am I being greedy? Have I stayed too long, absorbing a neighbourhood culture of rapacious self-interest. When we moved here it was all tradies, council workers, and older Italian immigrants. Now its merchant bankers, stock brokers, company directors and celebrities baying for good returns on their real estate investment.


I’m going to take the money and run. I can’t live here any more. I don’t belong. I give up. Defeated. I had hoped to make a difference, to pioneer a new type of urban living, one that respected Nature, that included the biosphere as part of our urban infrastructure. I had hoped to bring a little bit of wild to high-density city living. I believed it was possible, starting with turning the backyard

into a garden.

Years of delight!

But the tiny back yard was not enough. I needed more garden. I planted street trees after disease killed off the previous ones. Still I needed more garden. I joined a small group of volunteers revegetating an old tip behind the beach to regrow a rainforest that once was here. Surely it was possible to restore, protect and grow Nature in the midst of the concrete jungle.

Early days of the rainforest regeneration project. New rainforest is in lower left corner, the weeds on right hand side. The big bare trees are coral trees, the worst environmental weed here

I have recorded elsewhere the trials and tribulations, the pig-headed obstruction and bastardry that dogged this enterprise through the decade long Millennial Drought. Trying to grow rainforest in a drought is heartbreaking enough. But the biggest challenge was always the human factor rather than climate. The power plays, the careless laziness, the destructive violence, the bureaucratic inertia, and selfish greed were endless. In spite of all the setbacks, this small group kept going. We believed in our own little way, we could make a difference. And we have.

Well there is a small patch of rainforest there now.

Nonetheless I am dispirited. The forces of anti-nature have defeated me. Most recently, it was the neighbour who kept dumping his building rubble in the rainforest we’ve been re-establishing, then took me to court when I returned the favour into his front yard. Before that, it was the neighbourhood big shot who swung his weight at council and stymied the community vegetable garden we were trying to start.

We eventually got that up too!

Before him it was those loitering heirs of city directors, the young vandals who cut down a swathe of twelve-year-old trees to create a private bower for drinking & drugging. These were the last straws. You don’t expect thanks. But neither do you anticipate being insulted and abused for your work. I only wanted to help Nature, find a better balance for this wasteland. But others seem to have a very different sense of balance. Why is it that despite the successes, I feel defeated?

Building rubble on site.

Well in part, these local barbarians are just the tip of an iceberg, mere amateurs compared with state government. In city and country, their war on trees goes on unabated behind a camouflage of empty green spinPlanting trees throughout the city is a sensible way to deal with extreme heatwaves brought to us by coal-fired climate change. So what’s happened? Well trees got redefined to be any vegetation, even plants as small as asparagus, so that any vegetation could be compensation for trees lost to freeways, harbour views and landclearing. We have less trees!

And what could be a smart solution, a more compact city becomes code for unbridled development of cookie cutter apartments with woefully inadequate infrastructure.

More hot-boxes. Less trees. Everywhere Nature in retreat. We used to be ashamed of our convict origins. But really it is the Rum Corps history this city has never outgrown. This city, so blessed with natural beauty it was the envy of the world, is being totally screwed by privileged vested interests hiding behind a veil of secrecy. Again.


Nature is always the loser. Twenty years of planting and I just have not been able to make enough of a difference. It is with deep disappointment that I look to sell my house, cash in the chips, and leave this venal city to stew in its own toxic juices. I’m out of here. Off to a new, bigger garden. Out where the grass is not only greener. It’s also not synthetic.

Don ‘t worry. I’ll shut the gate behind me


The real estate suit reckons the garden will be the selling point. This garden that I built up from a buffalo and Hills hoist back yard and lovingly tended, working with nature as it matured into a thing of wonder and beauty over 22 years.

This garden that I have loved and taken such pride in, that has given me so much delight and creative pleasure, reduced to the headline of an advertising campaign. So crass, it’s embarrassing. And you know what? The garden will not make any difference to the final price. A tumble down asbestos garage would add more value. Yet here I am, nip and tuck, tidy up… It’s an opportunity to put the garden on display, and I can’t help myself. People will come to see. And I want my garden to be seen and admired. It does look so damn fine at the moment.

I trim and tuck and tidy up, then stand back to admire my work. Deepening shadow draws out the garden’s sculptural qualities while the setting sun imbues the garden with soft green chiaroscuro illumination.


So beautiful. A gentle wave of aesthetic pleasure floods through me. I cannot claim creation, just contribution. I have played a delightful part in making this happen. But it’s only a part. I could not have done this alone. But who is my co-creator? That mysterious Other. Is it Nature? The Garden? That Taoist web that has no weaver? I cannot say. The mystery of this collaboration is as deep as the pleasure. And somehow this not knowing is humbling. I don’t know why. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter that my sense of wonder is infused with melancholy. I will soon be leaving forever.

God I love this garden! 



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