"The transplanted garden"

Gardens can live on!
Sunday, 29 January 2023     

Xanthosoma Lime Zinger (top left), potted Hakonechloa macra All Gold (centre) and red bird, all from the former garden of Sandra Wilson in Sydney

Whilst I know that many wonderful gardens can be made from plants all sourced from a nursery, I have never had a garden like that. I did buy hedging plants for my current garden, when it was created 28 years ago, and a few stalwart shrubs, but most of my plants have come from other gardeners over the past 40 years. Many of them came as cuttings, shared by generous friends. Even on the day I left my old garden, my kindly old neighbour from across the road, handed me a piece of the ancient Hydrangea in her front garden, which I had gazed at from my front windowalmost every day for the previous 13 years. It was an unusual one, known as 'Ayesha', with cupped-edged petals. The cutting grew into a robust shrub, and I have it still, and I think of my neighbour every time I walk by it. Many are the pieces I have given to other gardeners who liked it, so her legacy lives on in many places.

When making my first garden, myriad plants came as cuttings from my parents' mountains garden, as it was my custom to walk around the garden with Mum every time I visited, and she would snip bits and pieces for me. Other Hydrangea (especially a lovely white-flowered mophead one), Abutilon (including a rich red one that is popular with my friends and a pretty, soft-yellow one), Fuchsia magellanica, Marguerite daisies, Erigeron, and many Acanthaceae plants (such as Justicia carnea, Justicia brandegeeana, Acanthus mollis, Dicliptera, Hypoestes species and Odontonema). She also dug up big clumps of Agapanthus, belladonna lilies, Clivia and Alpinia nutans to fill the yawning gaps in that first garden, which was basically a blank canvas. When I moved to my current garden, I potted up and brought all of these with me. They remain a tangible link to the garden of my childhood.

Cuttings from garden groups, garden club sales tables and friends whose gardens I visited grew into plants that furnish my garden to this day. In more recent times, another phenomenon started to occur: receiving plants from friends who were downsizing or relocating from Sydney. It began in a low-key way with a couple of pot plants here and there: a giant peace lily that wouldn't survive the cold winter of inland NSW, a fiddle-leaf fig that was too tall to take to Queensland by car. Then it morphed to a bigger scale: big clumps of bulbs and perennials and established shrubs (even small trees!) actually dug up from the gardens themselves by owners who didn't want to see their beloved plants bulldozed into the ground by developers or ripped out by new owners who wanted a low-maintenance garden. When I first heard of this idea, I was a bit horrified as it seemed sacrilegious to plunder a garden like this, but the owners insisted that this is what they wanted.

So this led to me turning up to gardens, along with other gardening friends, with a spade and lots of pots, boxes and bags, to receive the gift of someone else's plants. Having fully grown plants to transplant into the garden is truly wonderful when you have gaps to fill, as it gives an instant effect. The gardens have all been in my local area, so I know these plants are suitable for my climate. A lot of the plants have been ones I have never grown before (sometimes because I thought they wouldn't grow here), thus bringing novelty and freshness into my garden and welcome change to plantings that have grown a bit stale over the years. Sometimes the garden owners have suggested I take plants I thought I would never grow - in the most recent instance, roses - because I thought they weren't 'me'. But now I have two healthy-looking roses in my garden, and I am excited about them and pleased to have my prejudices challenged!

There were still often potted plants in the offing from these gardens, and beautiful plants in attractive pots give an instant lift, no matter if they are placed on patios, verandahs or within garden beds. A potted lime-gold ornamental grass I recently was given has enlivened a spot in my garden with golden Hydrangea quercifolia, Xanthosoma 'Lime Zinger' (from the same friend many years ago), gold-leaved Pelargonium and lime-yellow shrimp plant, and I love the effect (shown at the start of the blog). Three potted specimens: giant Bergenia (which I never knew even existed), a lime-leafed dwarf Nandina and a variegated Carex oshimensis from one garden consort happily together in my own, a study in textural contrast (shown above left). At times, I have been given ornaments from the gardens, and these too add a new dimension to garden spots. Once I even received a beautiful wooden seat!

Another friend who downsized a few years ago had an amazing collection of bromeliads, and when she had a 'come and dig it up day' for her pals, I gratefully received some beautiful specimens, including some very dramatic ones (amongst many other plants), which immediately made a statement in my garden. So many of the treasured plants we get from friends in this way are ones that simply aren't available from nurseries - they are the result of many years of collecting, swapping and plant hunting.

It's a bittersweet experience when an owner relinquishes these plants - knowing they are going to a good home but having to say farewell to them. It is a reminder of the impermanence of gardens - all gardens. I sometimes pass some of the gardens from where my plants came, and they are completely flattened, with no hint left of the beauty and tranquility that once existed on the site. I am so glad that the plants were saved and live on, relocated to other gardens. In turn, cuttings and pieces will go to other gardens, keeping hard-to-find plants in circulation, so there is a sense of continuity after all. The plants are a wonderful reminder of our gardening friends and their gorgeous erstwhile gardens, and I am very happy for the donors to come and visit their plants in my garden.

I hope the same thing happens when I move or peg out: my gardening friends will know to come round with their spades, pots, boxes and bags and know that they have my blessing. Legally, I think this should be done before the sale of a property, just in case someone decides to buy a place on the basis of the garden! Sadly, most are destroyed these days, especially the bigger blocks. Every day I appreciate the transplants in my garden and remember the innate generosity of the people who gave them to me to enrich my plot.

 Reader Comments

1/11  Pamela - 2158 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2023

A beautiful post Deirdre, I love receiving plants from friends and enjoy the memories they continue to evoke. When I left my previous big garden I gave away so many plants and huge containers of box Id collected thinking I was returning to NZ and as fate would have it ended up with an even bigger garden but with a garden of 5 acres I do purchase masses of plants from local nurseries, they love me! Theres something so special about receiving plants from friends that hold those precious memories. We do need nurseries especially for shrubs and trees and it is still a treat for me to go to a nursery but I do love all the plants I have received from friends and relatives over the years! Deirdre

2/11  Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2023

Yea, I relate. I had a beautiful Balinese style garden just 3 streets away that literally wrecked my knees ( SO many stairs, tiers on a 1600sm lot) creating & maintaining. It was so beautiful, tranquil & my pride & joy. It now is a weed infested wasteland my old neighbours are complaining about. Breaks my heart. I hope I never have to move from this small cottage & garden but if I do, this is a great idea. How awful re your previous garden. I hope your current garden is giving you joy. Deirdre

3/11  Kristine - 2120 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2023

Wow , Diedre I also can relate to this my Auntys Garden of over 90years at Pennant Hills which had magnificent Trees and a garden she loved was totally bull dozed for a Kindergarten, it broke my heart to see them do this.I used to visit this garden all my life.They say it it progress !,!,!,!, So sad. I expected the same to happen to my childhood garden as it is a double block, but amazingly, after 21 years, it is still extant and many of Mum's plants can still be seen from the road! Deirdre

4/11  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2023

My garden was created from cuttings/plants brought from my parents' garden, years ago. Gradually, as time passed, many generous friends, and members of garden clubs, either swapped or supplied, cuttings of various plants, often those with which I was not familiar, thus increasing the variety planted. It is a joy to see plants from now-deceased friends, flourishing in my garden, and evoking happy memories. It is so nice to have these plants and I am happy you have shared many with me over the years! Deirdre

5/11  Bren - 2540 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2023

I never had much interest in bromeliads until I discovered how varied they are and how easy they are to maintain. Now I have a large collection in different parts of the garden. I got them from church fetes, charity shops, garage sales, market stalls, friends gardens, a cemetary, garden festivals, the council tip, and left discarded on the grass verge outside of peoples houses. The only time I have purchased them from Bunnies is when they are on special because they have stopped flowering. That is fab - bromeliads are so good in Sydney especially in those tricky shaded areas. Deirdre

6/11  Lloyd - 4060 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 30 January 2023

Great report Deirdre. Sadly my slapdash approach has seen some of my mother's treasures perish - and others run riot. Like her blue Plumbago - now confined to a single pot. Some orchids and a Hoya that is almost feral. I'm reinstating some legacy plants from around our 1929 house - Firespike (I even located the mauve/lilac one) and the original lobed-leaf Iresine (added the variegated one) gifted by a friendly gardener. Trying to rescue a neighbour's Otome camellia too. Love the opportunities! Yes some of those plants from old gardens, like plumbago, were rather exuberant. How fab to find that mauve/lilac firespike - that has been on my wish list for years! Good luck with the camellia! Deirdre

7/11  Anne - 4207 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2023

Last year I moved from my 32 years old garden on 5 acres to 1 acre in the same general area with no trees. I had potted up cuttings of all my favourites/precious and so far they have survived and are now in their new positions. I bought over 200 pots of various sizes for the new garden and I have created 6 new garden beds and planted 20+ trees/shrubs to give shade and structure to the bare patches. I know that gardening is patience, but sometimes it is hard to wait to see how it evolves. That sounds amazing and I hope they will all flourish in the new garden. Deirdre

8/11  Lorraine - 2477 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2023

Hi Deidre, Gardeners are a generous lot aren't they. When we bought here 35 years ago it was just a very old house with an acre of paddock and a small neglected garden. Since then my sister and I have made a garden which covers it almost entirely from plants and trees which have been gifted to us. When our elderly neighbors were no longer able to garden we inherited lots of wonderful plants which continue to thrive. We remember them with great fondness when we do our garden patrol. That is so nice, Lorraine! Deirdre

9/11  Shaun - 2075 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 30 January 2023


10/11  Phoebe - 4007 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Wednesday, 01 February 2023

Thankyou,I do love reading your posts and often jealous of things you can grow in Sydney not Brisbane. Lots here from my mothers garden,I can still hear her telling me I'm planting things too close,and years later I wish she hadnt been so right! Its so hot here,watering takes most garden time.I would love a patch of Belladonas, like the ones in my daughters garden in Sydney and the bluebells earlier this year. Actually I just looked outside and many plants look fab especially Medinellas ..... I am jealous of what you can grow in Brisbane! Especially as my passion is for semi-tropical plants and some are just not quite suitable for Sydney! Deirdre

11/11  Sue - 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Saturday, 04 February 2023

Lovely blog. So many old friends and relatives in my garden. I love the happy memories they give me and they are more treasured than the nursery buys. It's sad to see some old houses with established garden being completely demolished leaving just bare ground later to be replaced by plain green sameness. Yes I find it very sad seeing gardens demolished and often built over. I am very glad when we can save some of the plants from the bulldozer. Deirdre

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