Monday, April 4, 2011

Back to Gully Grove

I've attempted to write this post, a dozen times or more. Strange things happened at the beginning of the year, but where to find the words to explain it all? We really didn't experience our traditional Spring and Summer months. Normally, we're praying for rain to come - this year I prayed for it to stop! Rain, rain, rain and then, the Queensland floods.

Mercifully, it stopped, but only after carving a wave of destruction across the Lockyer Valley. We were spared the house: much of the garden and driveway suffered damage (again) though. Yes, this was a separate rain event to the one I recorded late last year. The mother of all storms, took over 30 lives in Queensland. Not surprisingly, we didn't get back into fixing the front retaining wall until 2 months later. It took that long just for the ground to dry out, plus there was the whole recovery period for our family/community too.

Shock, fear and displacement can do funny things to people. I'm not going to dwell too much. What I will say however, is Dave is back home and we're going to stay at Gully Grove. There's a long story behind that short sentence, but trust me when I say it's better to focus on what we're currently doing than what has already been done.

For starters, we fixed the portion of the front retaining wall that was damaged by the floods. It collapsed completely. A few days hard yakka, made it transform from this....

Back to this!

Fantastic to use it as a ramp again. I'm now working on digging the trenches above to fix the drainage issue. There is no way of knowing if it would've prevented the wall from collapsing, as there was just so much rain to contend with on January 10, but it would've lessened the run-off from the neighbour's driveway.

After all that hullabaloo of the wet-season however, there were other exciting things waiting to be discovered in the garden too. Like our first baby pineapple!!

Major excitement!

It appeared a few weeks after the flood and has been growing steadily ever since. I didn't realise it had flowers on the actual pineapple though! The things you learn when you grow your own food. Just a few pineapple tops, which would otherwise go into the compost bin - and there's new food in the making. Dave brought three FREE pineapple tops from work recently (after serving the sweet fruit to customers) so I'll do a post about propagating soon.

The process isn't as quick as writing these few sentences about it - plants need time to grow and mature; for pineapples about 18 months! But if your garden is going to grow plants anyway, why not pineapples? You can even grow them in pots, in a greenhouse or poly tunnel. Put them to bed in winter and bring them back out in Spring! Pineapples really aren't that fussy on soil or water. Just don't expect them to suffer frost in winter, as they're a tropical fruit.

Can't wait to taste our first pineapple

Without a doubt, they have to be the most quirkiest, colourful, talking pieces of the garden. Baby green tree-frogs even like to nestle in the centre of them too - before the pineapples grow out of them, that is.

Other survivors of the torrential rains, had to be the sweet potatoes. I think the fact they were growing on top of a retaining wall (with a drainage layer behind it) stopped them from rotting, like other vegetables we planted away from the wall.

Overgrown veggie bed - sweet potato vines

If it came to a famine, we'd be able to survive on sweet potatoes, pineapples, passionfruit and pumpkins. Oh yes, we didn't even plant this one!

Harvested 6 Kent pumpkins from a feral plant

Again, I put it down to the fact it sprouted from the compost, on one of our retaining walls, that kept it out of the puddles everywhere else. Pumpkins are real survivors. So are fruit trees! Or at least ours are; partly because we plant them on mounds of compost to keep their roots out of the clay soil.

Emperor Mandarin starting to colour

It's about the only helping hand we give our fruit trees. I even gave up spraying them with white oil, which is a more natural pest preventative. I live in the bush, and the number of pests in nature are too numerous to wage war with. I figure, what fruit trees I plant which survive are worthy of staying at Gully Grove.

At the moment, I'm waiting for the mandarins and two varieties of oranges to colour up, before we can eat them. We have other fruit trees that fared the wet conditions too, but didn't produced fruit because the blossoms rotted off. Next year perhaps we'll eat apples, pears, persimmons, mangoes, mulberries and pummellos!

With all the rain however, the ones growing on the unaffected side of our front retaining wall, began to fill-out like a proper garden.

Bright red flowers are from the pineapple sage

It's beautiful to sit back on the verandah and see this wall of plants, starting to dwarf the actual retaining wall. This is what I had always hoped for, when we envisaged this particular patch of ground. If you notice in the background, the passionfruit vine, in front of Hilltop Chicken Coop, is going absolutely feral too. I've already tasted one of the fruits, and it's simply incredible.

Turns red when ripe

For me, there's nothing like home grown produce. Pineapples and passionfruit, who could ask for more? Actually, what we did get more of is long grass and weeds galore! But this was actually a blessing in disguise. The grass, which was about a metre long, was cut with the brush-cutter and put in Hilltop Chicken coop for deep litter. We also had plenty of passionfruit prunings to throw in too! There was so much "extras" that grew in the wildly wet conditions, that we just threw it either in the compost, chicken coop or under the fruit trees.

Familiar patterns are returning to our lives again. In fact, gardening has taken on a whole new meaning for us. It's not just a "dream" any more. It's not even a dream garden. But it is a tried and tested reality that we've been battered by the odds of nature, and we're happy to go back and rebuild the pieces. It's all part of the healing process. The results mean more to us than they did before. Out of destruction comes new life - that's what nature does.

I must admit, all the events of the Lockyer Valley floods, battered our self-esteem as gardeners. We felt so helpless to stop the size of the destruction. It's not just in our gardens we've been working on for 4 years, but it's spread throughout the entire community. Even to the point where you see empty concrete pads, where homes use to stand. There are white crosses placed near them and you know it represents a member of the community, no longer here.

Re-mulching the garden again

But that's where things have changed for us. We actually feel closer to the Lockyer Valley and the unique landscape that has changed along with us. Nature is busy rebuilding and so are we.

The new picture in my header takes on a significant meaning too. It's about seeing through all the destruction and realising the tender hand of nature. This is life in all it's unadulterated glory. You may get to pick the best aspects, but you cannot change the worst. They are always there in the background and we shouldn't believe we can avoid it.

The responsible thing to do is merely live it, today and tomorrow. Just as the plants do in the elements of nature. We cosset our plants like we cosset ourselves. Never truly exposing the truth of our fragility (and the systems we build) until the hand of nature comes to test us. What then? It's a scary prospect but nonetheless, one worth considering.

Close-up, pineapple sage flowers

Every time I wield a pick now or push a barrow to build a system, I do so in the background of nature. We tend to forget that. We think it's "our" work or "our" garden, but it's only ever a borrowed landscape. I know I was lucky to survive the floods. I know our house was lucky to stand and stay dry inside too. But there's no luck involved in making the decision to spend time in our garden again.

My delight in finding a pineapple after the fury of nature, is where my journey towards healing, and ultimately forgiving nature, begins. There is much to forgive in this life. There is much to reap too. Which is where my hope for Gully Grove remains - on the cusp of life and death, but ultimately bringing new life at the hands of nature.

By the way, it will be Gully Grove's forth year in the making, this Easter!! We have such an awesome reason to celebrate now.

I hope your gardens (even the ones down your street) give you a sense of strength today.

Celebrate a reason for living!