I went for a walk at lunchtime yesterday, as it was a beautiful cloudless winter day. I am a bit obsessed with gardening at the moment, so I went in a different direction from usual to see if I could check out some new plants. Even though it’s nearly winter, the gardens in Hobart are overflowing with cottage flowers like salvia, daisies, and the last of the roses. But the best surprise of all was when I chanced to see an Irish Strawberry tree.
Not many people know about this tree. It’s a really tough fruit tree that withstands drought and frost and has these little berries – the ‘strawberries’ that you can eat. Now, they don’t taste like much, just vaguely sweet with a slightly grainy texture, and you certainly don’t find them in fruit shops. But when I was little I used to eat them straight from the tree in my garden and I thought they were the best thing ever!
So today I picked a handful and marvelled at how the smell and taste of this little, hardly known fruit took me back to the garden of my childhood like a time machine. Memories came flooding back of practising cartwheels on the lush, but prickly lawn. Sitting high in my favourite tree in the front yard, invisible to the world. Breathing in the perfume of the climbing roses that scrambled over the back fence.
We had a big old loquat tree in the backyard that sprawled across the brick boundary wall. I used to climb up inside it and stuff myself on sweet loquats warm from the summer sun. I loved the loquat seeds, they glistened like precious stones, and I tried so many times to save them but they always dried wrinkled and dull.
I grew up in the Perth Hills, and our house was bordered by paddocks and vacant lots where I used to chase the cabbage moths through the weeds in summer, and collect mosses to make ‘fairy gardens’ in winter. Our family would go for walks to visit the goat that lived over the hill, or have picnics in the remnant bush at the end of the street.
I don’t live in Perth any more, but I do live in a mountain region in countryside quite similar to that I grew up in. I am starting to plan my garden, and I want to include wondrous things like fruit trees abundant with apricots, mulberries, and nuts, beautiful flower gardens, and little surprises like sculpture and ponds. Maybe some day I’ll have kids who will glory in the garden as much as I did in the garden of my childhood. Maybe the ‘kid’ that enjoys my garden the most will be me. One thing’s for sure: I’ll be finding the space somewhere to plant an Irish Strawberry tree.