Forgotten Garden Corners

Words by
Kaye Roberts-Palmer
Images by
Georgina Reid
| February 23, 2018

The boundaries between spaces always seem to have an air of mystery as we change from one to another. In gardens, boundaries are taken for granted, from the edges of flower beds to the perimeter of the garden pond, but when these cultivated frontiers are neglected, nature furtively exerts its control and strange things appear.

Every garden has these ignored spaces. Mine is the forgotten corner. It’s in the front garden, a tiny parcel of land that leads nowhere, is surrounded on three sides and is nestled between the outside wall and the fence. It begins just beyond the raggedy lawn edge, where beneath the dense cover of camellia trees, secret unwanted seeds take root, wriggling their juicy stems through crumbling soil and decaying leaves.

A slow air of forgetfulness settles there. Unconsciously, I feel it and turn away. There’s always some other viewpoint more captivating, like the nodding valerian flowers with their raucous bee groupies.”

Occasionally I venture into my little corner to use an old rusty tap located against the wall, but upon each visit, something uninvited is budding.”

Worst of these surprises was the discovery of the dreaded Benincasa hispida, known by many names: fuzzy melon, ash gourd, white gourd, winter gourd, tallow gourd, ash pumpkin, and winter melon. It’s a complete mystery where the single seed came from or how it ended up in the corner. But settle in it did. It began surreptitiously taking over the garden.

The fuzzy melon is a climbing vine grown for its large gourds that are eaten as a vegetable along with its shoots and leaves. Native to South Asia the melons can grow large, some as long as 80cm in length. The flesh is bland, best steamed or added to stir fries and candied as a winter melon sweet for New Year Festivals.

It claimed its territory by stealth. I did not see it twist its way up and through the trees and was unaware of its rampant growth until I returned from a month away and spied a rounded mass hanging in the centre of my camellia tree.”

It was a whopper veggie, at least 60cm! Until then my pumpkins had been a dismal failure and zucchinis a no-show, yet here was something that had thrived on my neglect. I was proud until I realised it was heading for the neighbour’s garden and the power lines in equal vigour. I cut and thrashed at its strong vines over the weekend until I had nothing left but a sore back.

Then, just before Christmas, I discovered a vigorous lime green Choko vine (Sechium edule). It had burst up from the mulch detritus python like, twisting and strangling its way up through the feathery camellia branches, reaching the roof guttering and poking its green feelers between the terracotta tiles.

I was outraged at this second interloper and set upon its destruction, pulling and unthreading its tenacious growth. Losing all patience, I tugged wildly. It split and I lost sight of where it had begun. Even hurried digging couldn’t locate a point of origin.

I know that somewhere deep in that sticky clay soil it clings to life, waiting to re-emerge. When that will happen is anyone’s guess.

The job of gardener is a brutal one.