The first time I can recall visiting the home of my great uncle and aunt was in 1977. Having just moved to Australia from New Zealand, Doug and Margaret were the only relatives we had in our new country.
Doug was an author and a poet and Margaret, a painter. After living in Circular Quay which was a trendy and bohemian place where all the artists gathered, they decided to move to the suburbs to raise their daughter. They bought a humble two-bedroom brick cottage with an attached carport on a level, rectangular block of land.
There wasn’t much more that was there but over the years they turned the barren backyard into an ever-flowering garden with ponds and bird baths and trees for shade and rambling paths, and places to sit and rest and feel like you were enfolded in your own place of serenity.
From the very first time I visited Doug and Margaret I just loved the backyard. It’s not an enormous space but because of the way it has been designed it seems much bigger than it actually is. I loved how I could ‘go on an explore’ and follow the paths with their twists and turns that would lead into a new section of the garden I hadn’t yet discovered. There was always something new to see.
A favourite destination of mine was the fish pond where I would sit on the edge of the sandstone pond and watch the fish. The pond always had to be covered with metal webbing or otherwise the kookaburras would swoop down and eat the fish. A big thrill was being asked if I would like to feed the fish and careful supervision was necessary to make sure I didn’t kill them with kindness.
Often on my visits, Doug and Margaret would be outside and either doing some work in the garden or just having a stroll along its paths. The garden was a favourite place for them to be and gave them great joy. I would follow behind them as they picked a few lemons, gathered some herbs for dinner, picked some camellias, gardenias or jasmine, or just sprinkled the pond with fish food.
Margaret, being an artist, would often pick flowers and other foliage and bring it inside to put in vases beside her easel where she would begin to sketch and paint what she had just brought in from her garden.
Doug and Margaret are sadly both deceased and their daughter, my father’s cousin, has returned to live in the home. I visited her recently and took myself on a tour of the garden. What I absolutely noticed was that it is as if time has stood still. It is very much the same as it has always been since I first visited in 1977.
Because it is exactly as I remember it being when I would visit Doug and Margaret, as you stroll the paths you have the sense that they are still very much a part of their garden and that as you round the next corner, you’ll be certain to find them.
It’s lovely to be able to feel their presence in what they created.
Here is a poem Doug wrote about Margaret as he noticed her walking through their garden. I believe I read this to the congregation at Margaret’s funeral.
My wife, my life, my almost obligatory love,
Heaven forbid that I should seem your slave,
But perhaps I should say I saw you once in the garden
Rounding your arms to hold a most delicate burden
Of violets and lemons, fruits of the winter earth,
Violets and lemons, and as you came up the path –
Dark hair, blue eyes, some dress that has got me beaten –
And bowing your face to their fragrance, the sweet and the sharp,
You were lit with delight that I have never forgotten.