When I was in high school we all had to do a couple of stints of "work experience," which essentially meant unpaid internships in fields we were considering for our careers. Since my career goal was "author," I was a little bit stuck. As far as I knew, there weren't any successful authors in my little country town who were willing to let me come along and write a couple of chapters of their book (or make their tea) for them. In classic teenaged-girl style I left things to the very last minute, and so I ended up doing my work experience with a park ranger who was a friend of my parents, simply because they agreed to have me. I showed up on Day 1 expecting to do some bush-walking and perhaps save a wild animal or two from extinction. Instead, we rode around a summer-yellowed picnic area on the back of a 'ute, jumping down every 100 metres or so to empty the garbage bins amid swarms of flies. Work experience as a park ranger was highly successful in strengthening my ambition to become an author.
But at some point during the week, they asked me to help pull up a kitchen garden next to a historic house that was part of the park. The garden had been planted by the lady of the house more than 150 years earlier. Some of the plants there, through seeds and propagation, were the great, great grandchildren of those first plants. I was allowed to take them with me, so each day I would return home with my arms full of lavender, rosemary, comfrey and verbena.
Herbs became a new passion for me. Not just how they looked and smelled (beautiful!), nor the way they filled out a cottage garden (rampant! lovely!), but also the ancient histories, mythologies and healing stories that herbs carried with them through the centuries. I loved how the botanists of the past considered the behaviour and qualities of herbs inseparable from the behaviour and qualities of the planets.
Take sage, for example, a herb I happen to enjoy fried up all crispy in butter and served with pumpkin ravioli. Nicholas Culpeper, on the other hand, preferred to use sage to heal diseases of the liver, for curing itchy testicles, and to turn hair black. Among many other things. "Jupiter claims this herb," he wrote in 1653, and, "Sage is of excellent use to help the memory, warming and quickening the senses." That's something I might need to try, given that my brain seems to be leaking both knowledge and memory at an alarming rate ever since I became the mother of two very small children. I wonder if the memory serum will turn my hair black.
Anyhoo... what all this has been leading up to is to say that I really love gardening, ever since that fateful albeit mostly crappy work experience week. Particularly gardening that has a practical side, like fruit and vegetables and herbs you can eat, and flowers you can pick for the table. But we have been renting for a long time, so building a garden just hasn't been an option. Add to that, the courtyard space out the back of our new house is fully tiled over. One day, we plan to rip up the tiles and turn it into a proper walled garden, but the budget doesn't stretch that far just at the moment!
Last week for Valentine's Day, Mr B gave me the best present I could have asked for. A crate from Little Veggie Patch Co, complete with organic matter to fill it up, so I could start a little herb and vegetable garden in our back yard, tiles and all. I'm really excited to start growing some of our own organic food, and to teach Madeleine and Harry about the whole where-food-comes-from process!
After dropping Madeleine off at day care yesterday, Harry and I took a walk to Ceres to buy some plants. With summer drawing to a close the seasonal pickings were a bit limited (I really wanted heirloom cherry tomatoes but they were a no-go until next October), but we found some lovely seedlings of rainbow beetroot, carrots, kale, green beans, strawberries, sage (!), and one very hot chilli plant. I bundled them all into a box underneath the pram and hurried back home as storm-clouds gathered overhead.
Meanwhile, in our little courtyard, we already have lemon-grass, basil, mint, thyme, oregano, rosemary and a lemon and an orange tree all eking out an existence in the narrow border beside the tiles. My parents are coming to visit in a couple of weeks and bringing with them parsley and Asian greens. There's still more I want to plant, especially next spring, but I think that is a pretty good start.