SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL by Joy Barrow

When I moved from London to Australia I was very excited to become an owner of a very large uncultivated bush garden. The last London flats I lived in didn’t even sport a pot plant so it was a steep learning curve.

I enrolled in a local gardening course, bought magazines and books and with youthful energy attacked my quarter of an acre block.  The house and garden were featured in a Vogue Guide To Living magazine and I look back in wonder at the veritable jungle I achieved.  Definitely overplanted!  I guess the next owners needed to do a lot of thinning out.

The next garden was coastal.  It  was large, steep and terraced. It had once been a show garden but unfortunately after many years of neglect only a few hardy specimens survived. My husband and I laboured hard and long and eventually our work came to fruition.  We participated in the open garden scheme for several years and enjoyed the beauty of a beach setting, water views and a semi tropical garden.

Next stop was a vineyard in the central west of NSW.  Here we inherited a 2 hectare garden.  It was well laid out but needed more planting and hard work.  The garden was divided into rooms.  The house sat in the middle of 1 hectare, a native garden was enclosed by hedges and covered half a hectare and finally there was a fantastic orchard where chickens free ranged and kept down the insects and weeds.  This was even harder work than the first two gardens.

This brings me to our latest house.  It is on a very small block of land but we overlook a beautiful park with a river running through it.  There are ducks and birds galore and of course the advantage is we can enjoy it and leave the work to others.

Our small back garden houses just about everything we need.  An old work shed for my husband, a clothes line (necessity), water tanks,  hedges that block out the neighbours on three sides, flowering shrubs, herbs and sculptures.  An old French park bench makes a lovely spot to sit and dream and the original granite back door step from the vineyard makes a place for coffee cups and books.  Our own Venus de Milo, a sculpture made by an art school colleague of my daughters sits on a rough sawn wooden bench made by my middle son from a tree on our farm.  A hand sculpted by the same son welcomes visitors to the back yard. A sundial from our beach house stands under an olive tree and a couple of terracotta pots have survived from my very first garden.  All this is encompassed  in a garden 16 metres long by 6 metres wide.

For a change of scenery I can sit on the front verandah, overlook the pool and on to the glorious park and river.  Apart from a table and chairs there are two pots and a couple of small sculptures but strangely enough I don’t feel the lack of garden.  The serenity is wonderful and I can enjoy distant views without needing ownership.

I realised some time ago that it was too late for me to plant seeds or cuttings. Not just because of my age but because we demolished an old house, rebuilt and so began with bare dirt.  The garden is bounded by shrubs and trees planted as 1 metre high specimens.  This has paid off and because the garden is small it was economical.  They are now five metres tall. The other advantage is I can  trim, tidy, water pots, harvest herbs and cut flowers all in less than one hour.  Once a year my husband fertilises and prunes where needed. We can lock the door, go on holidays, use the automatic watering system and have a friend check the garden out once a fortnight.

Today I sit in an oasis.  There is not a building in sight, the plants are lush, the herbs organic and the memorabilia reminds me of the old gardens now in new hands.