A thrilling day. Exhilarating. Madness of the best kind. Ridiculous to think we even turned up at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) and its Food Garden.
Too good to be true or was it too bad to be true? Okay it was Thursday and, as we all know, it never rains on a Thursday. Does it? Well perhaps there is some movement in that story. This morning the mountain was swirled with snowy dense clouds, and the Hobart city CBD in the distance seemed to be under a persistent deluge, but the sky was blue at my house albeit punctuated with the pearly whites of a few clean clouds. Oh oh I thought as a nearby hill attracted the city rain. And then the heavens opened where I live. A short fall, but heavy. Then the sun came out. I went outside and could see even the surface of much of my garden was bone dry as if no rain had fallen. While waiting for K who had volunteered to give me a lift, I grabbed the hose and watered a section of the garden – giving my new well established tomatoes a good drink, refreshing the garlic, drenching the golden beetroot and the coloured stalks of the chard and the Silverbeet, moisturising the currant, and soaking the Tasmanian Pepper tree. The postman arrived in his full wet weather gear and looked at me quizzically. But the ground was dry. The plants deserved the water.
K arrived and we drove off to RTBG with no rain but with an absent mountain. Just then and for the remainder of the day my refrain was that it will be sunny because it will be sunny, because it always has been on a Thursday. To cut a long story short, it rained off and on during the day but often some of us stalwarts planted and pruned and constructed in the rain – because we wanted to. At one point Coordinator Adam yelled come inside out of the rain. ‘What for?’, I yelled gleefully. It was heavier in different parts of the Food Garden than others, dependent on bushes, trees, vines and walls giving protection.
I guess you can feel it; I hope you can feel it – my total delight in today. So many of our group turned up, and so much was achieved and so happily. So what did we do? What did I do?
As always ,Weed Girl pulled a few weeds every time she didn’t have instructions for a particular job. The lusciousness of the spring growth everywhere, whether weeds or edible or decorative plants, was super exciting; I view these gardens as the lungs of Hobart. I remain astounded that most people do not understand that plants take in the dangerous carbon dioxide which we humans help to create, and then they give out oxygen for us to breathe. Without them we die. Simple as that. Ah the magic of chemistry!
M was in the process of setting out pots of rocket plants, a wonderful salad leafy vegetable, when I wandered along and I asked if I could help to plant them. We are a friendly sharing cooperative bunch so of course the answer was yes.
Nearby some onions were due to be removed. Pungent. Fresh. Clean produce.
Then Adam offered me the option to use the flame thrower to burn path weeds. When I explained I hadn’t planted for weeks he directed me to a large patch with two others; later, B enjoyed himself with the burner and did a fantastic job . Here we laid out different varieties of chillies and tomatoes and capsicums plus zucchinis and pumpkins. Then, with rain falling, we dug back the soil, placed each plant, and smoothed over the soil. The intermittent rain all day was superb for settling all the new plants; the rain helped add nitrogen to the soil, and it settled the air pockets around the plant roots. We planted the chillies, capsicums and tomatoes at the top of the slope and the zucchinis and the pumpkins which will spread, down in the bottom half of the slope. When matured, we expect these plants to bush out or spread to cover most of the soil.
I hope you get a sense of sun in the next image; note the shadows on the ground. In the lead up to lunch I looked out over the garden illuminated by a warm sun.
And then we found a comfortable spot to sit in the sun and munch lunch.
And I looked around to marvel at the day, and watched a flock of birds passing over the very tall and very old olive tree.
After lunch and after weeding a little, I wandered along to see what N and S were doing. They were preparing the soil in a bed and creating 6 cm deep grooves into which to plant seeds. Nearby was a packet of strongly coloured reddish seeds. ‘What are these?’, I enquired. ‘Corn seed’, came the response.
Elsewhere K, S and L were building cane pyramids to ‘house’ climbing tomatoes.
The principle was to plant the tomato, create the structure, and then suspend a string from the apex down to the tomato and connect so it can grow up. Once the laterals appear they can be persuaded to work around the three prongs of the pyramidal structure and then bear more fruit.
I finished the day pruning kiwi fruit bushes mostly in the rain (by choice – ‘mad dogs and Englishmen are out in the noon day sun’, but where are Australian gardening volunteers when the rain falls and how crazy are we). In one week, after last week’s super-hot days and now the rain, long tendrils were sweeping around in the open air looking for purchase. Some have grown over a metre in one week! Some had the ‘balls’ of flowers then to be fruit and my job was to cut off down to one node above the fruit. On those without flowers I was to cut down to just above the first node.
I was half way through when the rain became more of a torrent, so I gave up and joined everyone else under cover. On offer was a trial of K’s attempt at making tea from the Food Garden’s tea plants. This was her first attempt when she only steamed the tea tips then dried them in the oven, without smushing. The tea was hot and the flavour mild and very drinkable. A perfect distraction. You might remember the tea pot cover. If not, here it is.
Adam thought he would try it out as headwear, then reverted to the more comfortable beanie. All terrifically amusing.
While we sipped tea the rain poured; I could see the driven drops and made this video but they are not visible on the film. Nevertheless, the food garden looks dramatically different from the photo further above which I took earlier in the day.
All of this goes to prove that a simply gorgeous day can be experienced when volunteering in the RTBG’s Food Garden, even if the sunny standard was absent for some of the time; even if the sky wasn’t gorgeously blue and expansive and open to the universe most of the time. Regardless of the weather, this was another day of great privilege. To be welcome to make a difference, given a direction and then let go. A powerful responsibility. Good fortune. A wonderful richness to savour and remember.
But, I hadn’t bothered to wear gloves and my hands were so cold – there is no doubt I will be happy to revert to all sunny days!