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I have a thing about odd numbers; I don’t like the number 133 for example. But I don’t mind multiples of five. 199 disturbs me, as does $1.97. But 55 is okay. Just. November has been a month of attempting to overcome this peccadillo. Posts have slowed down, as the silly season approaches (I’d like to think it’s quality over quantity). Each year I dread November and December. It’s as though everyone tries to squeeze as much life out of the year as possible, and as the social and other obligations mount, all I want is to have one whole day to myself, in the garden. ‘Maggie’s Garden’ is my final post for November, and takes me from five to six. Five is not so bad, but six is better.

2013-11-29 19.41.15One thing I’ve learnt is that ‘like minds like like minds’. This has been a painful lesson in some ways, and joyous in others. I met Maggie through my neighbour Robynann, when we both helped out with a bit of hard labour in Robynann’s garden. That day, Maggie gave me some some sweet pea seeds (she’d saved the seeds by colour – I was impressed), and my sweet peas this year are largely Maggie’s (with a few of mine from the previous year mixed through). A mutual love of sweet peas is something upon which a true friendship can be forged.

Today I went around to Maggie and Alan’s for lunch, and to do the thing that gardeners like to do most – check out someone else’s garden. Maggie’s garden has been 28 years in the making – as with all the best gardens, it wasn’t a plan but an evolution. It’s hard to describe how delightful is this oasis in the heart of Northcote, but I’ll attempt to convey my transport to French Provençale through pictures. (This transformation is in part due to Alan’s architectural abilities. He’s an architect, in other words.)

View from backyardA house that is designed to open on to the garden, where there is an almost indistinguishable segue between indoors and outdoors, is the kind of house I like. I spend hours at this computer, in a spot that doesn’t interact with my garden. ‘I want an outdoor office’, is the plaintive and pathetic plea I often make. I’d be happier, there’s no doubt, if the WiFi stretched to the back yard, or if this 1940s house had been built to allow the outside in.

At Maggie and Alan’s, louvre doors open from the dining spot to the garden, leading up the pathway to the peppercorn tree. Ah yes, the peppercorn tree – a curse and yet a blessing. Planted 26 years ago, it’s provided shade, tree houses, endless climbing possibilities, and of course, now it’s nearly two metres wide at the trunk and god knows how tall, the trade off between shade and sun. Maggie’s garden has evolved around the peppercorn tree to some extent. She keeps chooks and a lot of companion plants, fruit trees and some vegetables. But because of this long-term pact with the peppercorn, Maggie has a plot at Fairfield Community Gardens, which is where she grows most of her vegetables.

Maggie's PropagationMaggie, I discovered, is a propagator extraordinaire. All over the place are boxes and polystyrene containers with plants that Maggie has propagated. Anyone who has ventured into propagation, even on the smallest scale, would be impressed by the sheer quantity and variety of what Maggie grows from seed or cuttings. The biggest bonus of hanging with a propagator is that you return home with a whole lot of plants. As did I today, which means tomorrow has changed shape, and that’s a good thing.

Maggie’s Chooks

New brown chooksThis is a sad story and quite detailed, so I’ll abbreviate it. The week I planned to visit Maggie, they lost their chooks to a fox. So we postponed the visit for a week or two, until new chooks were purchased and the trauma had been overcome. Foxes are feral in Australia, and have become adept urban dwellers, in much the same way as they have in their native European countries. It’s not unusual to see foxes on Melbourne’s beaches or in the street, and they’ve had a devastating affect on our small marsupials, not to mention on free ranging chooks. If you want to have chickens in (sub)urban Melbourne, they need a fox-proof place to sleep over night. Happily, Maggie’s new brown chickens are already laying, and she has three more beautiful babies in segregation, waiting to establish themselves in the pecking order.

Trains not tollroadsTrains Not Toll Roads

As a consequence of a perception of inaction on the Victorian Government’s part (old do-nothing Ted), it appears Melbourne is to be subject to a travesty, called the East-West Link. Far be it from me to use Maggie as a political launching pad, but she does have this sign on her front fence, as do many, many people across inner Melbourne.

The East-West Link is just another road, to facilitate more cars, at a time when the sensible folk across the globe are realising that public transport is the way to go, in a carbon intensive world. And, we all know more roads means more cars. And within five years, each new road reaches critical mass. The biggest laugh for me (a resigned and bitter laugh) is the Western Ring Road. At no time since that ‘saviour’ of Melbourne’s congestion problems was built has there not been congestion, partially as a result of the construction of new on and off ramps to cope with the increase in traffic, and therefore an 80k per hour speed limit due to the perennial road works. The Western Ring Road reached critical mass under the predicted five years from construction. How in the hell is the East-West Link going to buck the trend? Idiocracy.

Back to Maggie’s Garden

Quince tree and studio

On a lighter note, as that was the note the afternoon started upon and sustained, that’s radial sawn timber in that there studio. Beautiful, and takes me back to Northern California.

Robynann and I returned from Maggie’s garden, unpacked the car of all the plants that had been passed on, and sat in the late sunshine, musing on gardening, the way it infects people, and how it creates its own momentum.

I told Maggie, as I left, that I had to post this tonight, or I’d be stuck on an odd number for November. Five is not so bad, but six is better.

Peppercorn tree

Maggie and Alan’s Peppercorn Tree