The garden that celebrates life

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By Sue Dempster, a land-healing practitioner based in Western Australia

 A bird visiting a tree, plants flowering, mushrooms growing and insects buzzing is a celebration of life.

The garden where weeds thrive, ants invade homes, leaves fall into pools, insects swarm and plants die is not regarded as a success, or a celebration of life. I have to ask why? Can only ‘successful’ gardens be celebrated? What do we now define as a ‘successful’ garden that celebrates life?

As I visit more clients and discuss the advantages of native Western Australian plants, some say their gardening comes with a feeling of duty, and an attachment to the chores involved. Their homes, their personal image and neighbours’ judgements come into play. How do they rank? Are they black, brown or green thumbs? Some are overwhelmed because their gardens are big and unruly: little wildernesses in the ‘burbs’, so to speak.

My own experience is that striving to attain order in my garden is a barrier to my joy and celebration. The angst that comes with achieving ‘order’ is not a feeling of relaxation. This is why I have changed my gardening style. I now have garden pockets, pretty places to poke around in, and I am achieving small ‘wins’. A bonus is that I am developing more patience, acknowledging that the different areas I have set up are progressing in their own way, in their own time.

So how can a gardener who wants ‘a successful garden’ ease up on the self-judgement, and old, unhelpful ideas of how a suburban garden ‘should’ look? How can he or she celebrate the ‘annoyances’ of gardening, bring joy into the garden and not connect it to a burden of chores.

Connect to your local bushland

Life in the garden is more than a plant, a weed, a garden bed or plot of land. Life in the garden is about awareness: a sense of place and your identity within your garden, as well as how you and your garden connect with your local sense of place.

Your sense of place starts with your local bushland. I recommend visiting it regularly.

Your local bushland celebrates life each day. A joyous cacophony of bird song is the soundtrack to the non-stop activities of native bees and other insects; native flowers greet the day and welcome any rain that falls. All work together to support each other through the seasons. They work as one.

Together they celebrate: reptiles and ground birds emerge from their burrows in the ground, from hollow spaces in fallen logs, from their abodes in the trees. Flower blossoms open, singularly or in groups. Baby lizards, snakes and birds crack through their eggshells. Mushrooms and toadstools push up through their soil cover. Frogs, insects and all manner of creepy crawlies join the throng. This is life, always reproducing itself, always being celebrated, whether we see it or not, even up to the top of the swaying boughs of the tallest trees.

As you walk through the bush you will come across flowers, insects, textures, colours, forms, and fauna paths. Some areas will look orderly while others will look chaotic. They are all part of the natural cycle. Chaos and order never stops. It is a part of life and death. You may notice weeds, trees, bare earth, rocks, logs laying on open sand and areas covered so thick you can’t see the ground. Each area is rich and celebrating life in its own way. It is neither attractive or unattractive, good nor bad: it just is. Old ideas of order are only outmoded thoughts and judgements we bring.

Breathe in the joy of this celebration; breathe and let go of those old worn out thoughts; relax with Mother Nature in her garden. 

Four steps to success

Every gardener can make space for Mother Nature. There are just four steps to follow.

Step 1: Visit your local bushlands. Make note of what see. What interests you? What draws your eye? Be aware of textures, colours, shapes, sounds, and height. Touch foliage and take a leaf with permission, then scrunch it up, smell it, explore what the scent offers you. Focus on the aromatic nature of your setting and think about how those scents might enhance your garden.

Step 2: Learn more about what you have experienced. Connect to local knowledge in bush walk ‘n’ talks. You may be able to join a group for a day or night walk to learn how your garden could provide support for your local environment. Find out if there are local websites that discuss flora and fauna native to your area.

Step 3: Visit and explore a local dedicated native plant nursery and then revisit every two months, armed with your new information. Many knowledgeable women and men run local native plant nurseries. These dedicated people have a passion for their work and are ‘gold’. Ask them for advice and follow it: they have years of experience and the information they pass on will be reliable.

Step 4: When you get home plant the plants straight away. Don’t delay the planting. Many people – including me – have delayed planting newly bought plants and they have died. Even if it is a hot day, I suggest planting them and giving them a good watering. The plants will thank you.

Follow these four steps and you will start achieving little wins in the gardens with new fauna visitors, shows of colour and comfort of the local knowledge within your community. This is life worth celebrating. 


Sue Dempster is a Western Australian garden advisor and land-healing practitioner. Further information visit www.boxedgreen.com.au Facebook – Boxed Green e: [email protected]