Digging up Mother

My parent’s house will shortly be put on the market.  Father died in February 2013 and clearing out the house has taken much longer than I would have anticipated.  We are almost there (my sisters and I) with some garden rubbish to be disposed of and a few shed items as well.

We will probably manage the sale ourselves and if we can find a willing auctioneer, will sell it via auction.  What this means then is it is time to dig up Mother.  That was the decision I came to this Saturday as I surveyed the house and considered what needed doing next.  I knew that she was under a rose bush and was confident I knew which rose bush.  My sister disagreed however and was sure that it was the adjacent bush.  Perhaps it was.

We have had what seems like weeks of rain and as a result, the clay-based soil in the front garden is damp and heavy.  Cutting through it was hard work.  I circled the rose bush that I favoured, levering out forkfuls of soil as I went.  I repeated the process and then resorted to the shovel to dig out the loosened soil.  Thus I dug a circular trench around the rose, exposing the roots and freeing them from the clay.  Eventually I pulled the bush out, severing some roots in the process but leaving a large bowl-shaped excavation that I continued to work on.

After a while, the soil changed consistency and I reached a layer of greasy clay that looked as though it would have been brilliant for making clay bricks.  It was also incredibly resistant to either fork or spade.  I now had a large and quite deep hole but had not found Mother.  I conceded that perhaps my sister was right and turned my attention to the second bush.  It was only about 12 degrees but even so by this stage, I felt the need to remove my jacket.

I started on the second bush, a bit peeved I had been chatting to the wrong shrub.  There had been those occasions when visiting dad that I had felt the need for a discussion with Mother and had slipped out into the front garden to commune with that rose, filling her in on the events of the day or just having a general chat.  The knowledge that I had misdirected my attention made me feel a bit silly.  I repeated the excavation process I had followed with the first bush and soon had that plant released from the ground as well.  I dug deeper and wider until the second hole was about the same depth as was the first.  I still didn’t find Mother.

I turned my attention to a third bush and divested myself of my jumper, leaving just a thin T-shirt on.  I was puzzled by this stage as my memory of the day on which we buried her did not support the location of the third bush at all but she had to be somewhere and I was starting to doubt the integrity of my recollections.  I repeated the process followed with the first two holes and dug the third hole and removed the bush.  Mother wasn’t there either and by this stage daylight was fading and I was exhausted.  I walked out of the garden 10 centimetres taller from all the claggy clay stuck to the bottom of my shoes, a bit cranky and perplexed by it all.

Today being Sunday, I was back at the house again, tackling some of the fun pre-sale jobs such as cleaning the oven.  My brother-in-law joined us early afternoon and somewhat in mirth when I advised that I could not find Mother, undertook to dig up further roses while at that time I supervised and cut back some rampant vegetation.  He dug up a fourth rose leaving a small neat hole that did not disclose mother.

I thought he needed a broader hole but no matter, he launched himself at another rosebush and dug that one up too.  This was now rose number five.  By this stage, he was feeling the heat and his jacket came off.  I noted a fair amount of huffing and puffing as he struggled with the sticky clay.  With that hole finally excavated, there was still another option (the sixth) and he tackled that rose bush as well.  Somewhat slowly by now and with frequent rests in between.

There was some talk of perhaps leaving her in situ and that maybe we would never find her.  I heard what they were saying but really did not want to leave my mother behind.  When the sixth hole did not yield a result except for yet another bare-rooted rose looking somewhat shocked, I suggested a cup of tea and a bit of a break.  We all needed it by then.

Suitably refreshed, we emerged to widen the last three holes, giving a greater area to investigate. My nephew had also arrived and he manned the digging implements for a while as well.  I watched them using a stabbing motion with a narrow-bladed implement as they chipped at the bottom of their holes – holes that I still didn’t really believe would yield success.

It made me think again about the first hole that I had dug and I asked my B-I-L to use that digger to chip away at the bottom of the first hole.  Chip, chip, chunk, chunk.  He chipped away and then I scrapped out the loose clay with the shovel.  Suddenly there was a flash of colour.  I directed him to it and then I could see that we had found her.  Just 5 cms below the first hole that I dug, she was waiting all along.  It was a relief to know that I had been speaking to the right bush after all.

Mother has now been extracted from the garden, the clay washed off the cream plastic brick, and she is now sitting alongside father in one of the bedrooms.  I am not sure if that is what they would have wanted but for now it will do.  The next resting place is a decision for another day.

It looked like wombats had attacked the front garden.

It looked like wombats had attacked the front garden.

At last, we found Mother.

At last, we found Mother


I have had a  week to contemplate this.  A week in which I have howled when trying to dress myself and whimpered when rolling over in bed.  If I can’t get my son to pull me out of a chair, I have to take a couple of breaths before I tackle it for myself.

As for getting into and out of the car – do you have any idea what that twisting motion can do it you?  I rode to work on a scooter for a couple of days, as sitting upright as though riding a kitchen chair was preferable to the slouched position in the car – once you had actually levered yourself into it.

Wearing trousers is a problem, and even threading feet into knickers is a challenge.  I just throw food at the cats now – I can’t bend over to nicely dollop food in the bowls.  They seem to cope.

It’s frustrating when I thought that I was going to do so much this weekend.  Finish the weeding for a start and perhaps plant some tomatoes.  I can crawl around on my knees, but how will I get up afterwards?  I had to drive up to the Barossa Valley today to conduct a wedding ceremony.  At least I do that standing up but unwinding myself after an hour travelling in the car was not a pretty sight.  Didn’t feel good either.

Putting the lawnmower into the boot of my car was probably not the smartest thing, but trying to lift it on my own with a convoluted lift and twist action defied not smart.  It feels as though my sacroiliac joint will never be the same again.  Yeah I know.  Stupidity.

Luscious Apricots and northern travels

I’ve thought of my blog often but since late October have not really been near it. In part, this is because with daylight saving, I have things to do in the garden when I get home from work, or general maintenance chores or just generally things that are better done in daylight and by the time I finish up, cook the evening meal, etc. etc. it is quite late and there is little time for contemplative or responsive writing.

On the plus side, I have been over-run with tomatoes and last night I picked the very first apricots from my young tree. They were so flavoursome and such a treat. They were the ONLY apricots as all the rest were lost in storms. I also picked the first of my peaches on a dainty little peach tree. I didn’t eat, but admired my cauliflower head, growing nicely and ready to pick in a day or so. I was surprised at this as cauli is a winter vegetable I think – it has certainly been growing for a long time – but it looks beautiful. I also picked a handful of beans and a cob of corn. Not bad for a very small garden which is largely grown in pots.

This morning I kissed my sleepy son goodbye and left for the airport, which is where I am now sitting. ‘Have a good time’ he muttered ‘and not too much rock’n’roll.’ ??? Not sure quite what he meant, but I wish. Today, I am off to Singapore. After a few hours, then Frankfurt. After another couple of hours then Amsterdam. I will stay put here for a couple of days before heading to Oslo and then travelling to the far North to see the Northern Lights. To say that I am excited is an understatement. Also looking forward to some reflective time away from work.

 I have looked at the weather forecast in Kirkenes, which is as far north as I will get. Minus 9 degrees, and sunrise at 10:35 and sunset at 11:40. Interesting times for an Aussie Girl still wearing the sweat of summer. But, even the cold and the dark will be exciting. Stay tuned.

Bloomin’ Marvellous

My stiff and aching body bears testament to my weekend in the garden.  Partly I have been cleaning and tidying, weeding, sweeping etc and partly planting some new vegies.  I should take some photos to show you all but right now I am too stuffed.

My garden is not really big, so there is not room for those lovely raised garden beds that are a good height for the back, seem to avoid some of the pests like snails, and provide an opportunity for creating a yummy soil mix.  There is a lot of shade as well, due to neighbouring trees and also an elevated fence that a neighbour has just erected.  I am having to be more creative therefore in where I plant things, and am also planting some vegies in the front garden where I am guaranteed of the morning and midday sun.

The snails are a bit of a problem, so I have planted most things inside toilet rolls, pushing the cardboard down into the soil so that the baby leaves can still see the sun but hopefully the snails and slugs are put off.  I put snail bait down as well though.  So far it has been a success, with only one toilet roll decimated by a snail with a poor sense of taste and the smarts to avoid the pellets.

I have been using large pots for the vegies – the carrots are in a trough.  The theory is that I can move them around so that I can find the spot with the right degree of sun.  Progressively, I am getting little racks on wheels so that I can just push the plants around, rather than lift them and cause grief to my back.  I am also going to get more hanging pots, but so far all I have with the vegies is an upside-down hanging tomato planter.  I have seen them for a couple of years in the hardware stores and have been intrigued by the concept.  The tomato plants are inserted roots first into the base of a hanging bag.  The plant(s) grow downwards – no staking required and easy to pick.  Water from the top of the bag.  There are slits in the side of the bag also into which you can insert herbs such as basil or chives, etc.  I haven’t done that yet.  I made sure to use a metal chain and metal hooks for suspending the bag as the whole thing should get fairly heavy as the plants grow.  On the recommendations of the bag supplier, I have planted two tomato plants in the bottom.  As it grows a bit, I will take a photo.

So I have the tomatoes, but also some broccoli where the head is just starting to form, some broad beans, green beans, butter beans, rhubarb, sweet corn, baby spinach, strawberries and Lebanese cucumber.  I have some eggplant seedlings still in an incubator box.  That incubator box has been a source of fascination as I have watched the seeds initially sprout and then grow mature leaves and get to a height at which it was appropriate to plant them out.  I will be so excited to actually harvest the vegies that I have grown in this fashion.  The baby spinach is doing well in a couple of terracotta strawberry planters, which are now on the wheeled trolleys.  I have tried strawberries in these in the past, but they seemed to dry out quickly and also the slugs got to them.  I am leaving the strawberries in pots, but I will transfer them to hanging pots around the perimeter of the deck, once I get all the right gear.

Nearly forgot – I have had some Pak Choy as well, but it went to flower very quickly.  Does not look at all like the picture on the label.  There are still some big leaves though that I will put in this week’s diet vegie soup.  The soup is made with a tinned tomato base and lots of low carb vegies (lots of green and white vegies, except potato) and a little chopped chicken or fish – good for taking to work for lunch.  To add some filler I put in a small amount of brown rice or quinoa.  In some ways, I don’t know why I am bothering with the ‘diet’ soup, as I am sitting here with a glass of red and rice cracker biscuits but I am telling myself that I deserve it.  I am also feeling virtuous as I resisted the urge to buy an ice cream this afternoon.

One could think that I get easily excited over tiny things but noting that I have fruit growing on my young apricot tree sent me into gibbering ecstasy.  I know that with the first fruit on young trees, you are supposed to pull the fruit off and let the tree devote its energy to growing (or something like that) but I simply couldn’t do it.  I thought that it was a minature tree, but looking at the growth I don’t think that it is.  I will just have to keep it contained via pruning.  After noting this little miracle, I checked out the dwarf nectarine and the peach and noted that they both have baby fruit as well.  I had better give them all some more fish emulsion.

Citrus is generally easy to grow, provided there is enough water.  I have a definite lime tree which is in its infancy and another tree which is supposed to be a lime, but looks to be a cross between a lemon and an orange.  It makes beautiful marmalade and is continually laden with fruit.  I sometimes leave containers of fruit on the letterbox for passers-by to take.  I also have two cumquat trees in pots.  I found them a month ago, put out on the footpath with the hard rubbish.  I raced up with my wheelbarrow and snaffled them both.  They each have both blossom and ripe fruit and seem to appreciate the water and fertiliser that I have heaped on both.  I am not sure what I will actually do with them.  I know that brandied cumquats is a traditional recipe though I have never tried it.  Probably makes an interesting marmalade as well.  Maybe sliced, dried and dipped in chocolate would be a tart and tasty treat.

The only established fruit tree that I have is an ancient and not-very-tasty apple.  It would be very old, probably planted around 100 years ago and is one of the two plants that I kept when I demolished the cottage that was originally on my allotment.  The apples are quite sour and not so good for eating.  I mostly use them for apple pies, but a wedding client had a look at the fruit one day and thought that it might be a very old type of cider apple. It certainly is not a variety that is commonly seen today.  Perhaps I will try to make some cider one year.  It is a large tree and has not been adequately pruned for a long time.  I did take the top off a few years ago, but it should have had more work this last winter.  It is in blossom at the moment, and as I was working this weekend, a snowfall of blossom was landing all around me.

The big challenge of the weekend was Ivy.  A neighbour at the back has a HUGE Ivy plant which is in the process of suffocating an old fig tree.  It must have launched a mass of seeds on the breeze, as I have had baby ivy plants coming up all over my back yard – through the lawn, coming up between the pavers and then in the garden beds.  Once it gets hold, it is difficult to control.  I have got most of it out but there is still one corner of the garden bed to tackle.  This is my tropical corner and there are lots of big-leafed ferny things in there, as well as palms and things like that and it will need another day to crawl around through that lot to eradicate it.  I also need to visit this neighbour and have a chat to him about ivy control.  There are a few of us that are being affected by the fallout.

I never feel like going back to work after spending a weekend like this.  It is just so much more satisfying.