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Six Square Metres

October 2013

  • Margaret Simons

The Struggle Against Gravity

The persistent miracle of gardening, and parenthood for that matter, is that things grow despite one’s incompetence. They also grow according to their nature. You can train and trellis, but plants still struggle to be themselves.

It’s one of the things that makes gardening fascinating. The gardens of old sprawled across vast estates, an intermediate space between wilderness and home, the playing out of a constant tension between nature and nurture.

Sometimes, you get to cheat.

And sometimes threats work. My mandarin tree, admittedly in a light-starved corner of my tiny back yard, hasn’t fruited for three years. This year I pruned it back mightily and laid on the potash, while muttering threats about the need to earn its keep. Now it has pushed out a few grudging blossoms.

Gardening when you really don’t have enough space is a challenge. Logic would suggest that my efforts should be mostly to do with things that grow in pots and without much sunlight, but ferns have limited appeal, one canna lily plant is quite enough, and I like to grow food.

Last year I discovered my local garden centre has cunning and distressingly expensive pots designed to straddle a balcony railing. I requested one for my birthday present, which caused the teenagers to roll their eyes, but they bought it nevertheless and I was a convert.

Now I have six of them balanced on my little sundeck balustrade, growing bok choy, strawberries, radishes and lettuce.

Even more novel are the upside-down bags, bought for two dollars each on special from Bunnings. I assumed at the time that they were cheap because they didn’t work, and nobody else was foolish enough to purchase.

There isn’t much to them. The bags are like green sausages, around a metre long, with a little hole at the bottom and a big one at the top, together with some wires and a hook by which to hang them.

The idea is that you push a seedling’s leaves through the bottom hole, leaving the roots in the bag, fill from the top with potting mix, water and hang it in a sunny spot so the plant grows upside down.

Four weeks ago I planted an eggplant, a tomato and a capsicum, and hung the bags from the only part of my sundeck railing not occupied by the straddling pots. They look like fat, premature Christmas stockings.

The picture on the package showed tomato plants growing like upside down trees, trailing below the bag and laden with fruit, but my plants are behaving differently. They clearly want to grow up.

Just after their stems emerge from the bag, they take a U-turn and are struggling upwards against gravity. How will they fare once they (hopefully) set fruit? Will they be able to continue the upwards struggle, or will they snap off and die? There is a ghastly fascination to watching the struggle.

Meanwhile I have cleared the gone-to-seed broccoli from my prime growing space – the sunny but narrow strip of soil that divides my house from the street, and cut back the rosemary and lavender to create room for beans and corn.

Instead of putting the rosemary clippings in the green bin, I bundled them up with rubber bands and left them on the gatepost in a bucket with a note indicating they were free to a good home. They were all gone by the end of the weekend. One person’s prunings, another’s dinner garnish. Some things go right with the world.





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