Gardening in a time of plague

Story and Poems: Gerry Jacobson

Photo: Matt Mawson
Photo: Matt Mawson

Lockdown and isolation. Months of chocolate and TV. Can’t travel. But in Canberra there’s always somewhere to walk. And I rediscover the wilderness of my home garden. It’s very large and out of control. Well, it has been neglected for forty years . Our busy lives — two professions, three children, demanding hobbies, and retirement spent travelling to see grandchildren.

In the autumn and winter days of lockdown I pull vagrant couch grass from neglected corners; it has thrived and spread in years of drought. I excavate a couple of ‘hills’ that we constructed from paving stones and concrete rubble in the seventies. I think we were striving for an adventure playground. Archaeological finds include toy soldiers from our kids in the 1970s, a milk bottle top also from that era, broken tiles and cement left by the 1950s German builders, and a knapped stone, maybe an arrowhead, from time before 1820.

I weed the carrots
prune the climbing rose
while the world
passes one million cases of
COVID-19

We mulch and compost to build veggie beds. Inspired by the ‘pollinator island’ concept we plant native shrubs, also lavenders. Some things are immovable, like the great mulberry tree that’s split into two halves; the rotting woodheap that we rarely use; and the remnant ‘lawn’ once kept for kids to play on and guinea pigs and chooks to graze. Kids, chooks, guinea pigs are long gone but there is a difference of opinion on whether or not to keep the grass. Let’s leave it for now.

my spade in the soil
planting out seedlings
over there
it’s men in masks digging
to bury the dead

Our government stimulus payments come in so we pass it on to the local economy. The ‘Odd Job Lads’ help us with the heavier weeding, mulching, and cutting back ivy and honeysuckle. ‘A Handyman’ is engaged to paint the old shed. Which leads us on to another lockdown project: clearing the shed of accumulated stuff.

getting rid
of old tins of paint
letting go
of old intentions
unfulfilled … moving on

And now this spring with La Niña and its blessed rain. A wonderful succession of bulbs flowering; jonquils and snowdrops; daffodils; triteleia and grape hyacinths; bluebells and freesias. Crops of parsnips and leeks and spinach now finishing; garlic and carrots and snow peas and broad beans coming on. An abundance of lemons and rhubarb.

rambling rose
in creamy cascades
lilac blooms
for older lovers
|love play lingers