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Happiness is a Garden

I came across a quote today from Helen Keller, which for me currently - and perhaps for others too - proves particularly apt. The quote reads "when one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us." In the face of emotional fragility, whatever the cause, I always find that I have a fairly literal door to happiness ready to open: I simply throw my living room door wide open and walk outside into my garden. Should the weather prove uncooperative, musch pleasure is still to be gained from watching my garden and marvelling at its lush growth from the warm indoors, or from reading about gardening and developing ever-more-ambitious plots (haha) for what I might do next.

Today's journey through the doorway took me a little further than normal, as I hopped in the car and drove off to the gardening centre in search of a heat pad to aid seed germination. Apparently being hopeful is just not quite enough to bring the ambient temperature to the necessary 22ºC that some of my seeds require, so I thought I might help things along just a little with some artificial warmth. Alas, upon closer inspection there was nary a heat pad to be had within the store.

However, the sign that had greeted me upon entry to the carpark had gladdened my heart with words capable of keeping me there for an hour or more anyway. The magic words were SALE! SALE! SALE!

Lo, much time was spent among the seed packets (but four, get the fifth free), sternly restricting myself to five packets only and consequently facing the hard-fought internal dilemma: "but if the fifth packet is the poppies, then I can't get the marigolds, and marigolds are a much better companion plant". The poppies won, as they are always wont to do: the sight of a poppy in flower brings a smile to my face instantly, whereas however hard I might try, and however beneficial a companion plant they might be, I just don't like marigolds - and besides, they always clash with my other plants.

You would think that with the decision about which flowers to get made, the dilemma would be at an end, but alas, no! Then must be fought the debate between brands (McGregor's, Kings, or Yates?), and specific types, and colours.... Eventually, however, decisions were made and seeds settled on. Bergamot Bee Balm, which I haven't had in the garden for a few years but shall take great delight in planting beneath my Bergamot Orange. White Alyssum, because I read somewhere (this month's NZ Gardener is a likely candidate) that there's a type of wasp attracted to it that will then eat some insect or other that I don't want on my roses. Echinacea, because I love the shape of the flower, again it has been a few years since I grew any of it, and again it's a beneficial plant. McGregor's Iceland Mix of poppies won the day in the end: I can't go past the simple beauty and elegance of a single bloom, and what better way to not make a decision about colour than by buying a mixture? And finally, Sweetpeas. I absolutely love sweet peas - always have, always will - they are my ultimate favourite plant. I love picking them and bringing them inside in summer, because however many I pick there's always hundreds more flowering. Even though I usually can't smell them (my sense of smell is mostly non-functional), it gives me great pleasure to know that they're spreading their beautiful perfume throughout the house. Again, the hard0fought internal battle was won by a McGregor's mixture - Symphony this time, promising beautiful bi-colours which I absolutely adore, and a full height of two metres. Dwarf Sweetpeas just aren't the same, and it's hard to find anything more beautiful than a swirl of sweet peas arching up and around an obelisk.

Speaking of obelisks, having settled on seeds I managed to get an entire five metres further into the store before I stumbled upon the most beautiful willow specimens. Sadly not on sale, these were however at a very reasonable price anyway - especially when compared to their metal counterparts. Attempts at thrift and internal arguments about the capabilities of my existing - but uglier, and tripod- rather than obelisk-like bamboo poles were firmly shot down and somehow I found myself with not one but two of them coming home. The sweet peas promise to be stunning.

Finally making it into the outdoor section of the store, I was soon grinning ear to ear. The sun was out enough to gently warm my face, neck and hands, and there's nothing more beautiful and promising than the lush green of young plants. I inevitably found myself wandering at random for 15 minutes, feasting my eyes on the colours and shapes of plants and flowers, occasionally running my hands across those with particularly interesting textures. It's like being in a living, breathing fabric store.

Slowly I made my way to one end of the shop - past the brightly-coloured daisies (a particular weakness of mine) and this season's fancy new perennials, to the bargain section. Today I hit my own special jackpot. About a year ago, in the same store, I had come across a gorgeous wee viola planted in one of the displays. I asked after it, but sadly it was "not in stock yet, coming soon." Personally I think it particularly cruel to taunt customers in such a fashion. It was still on display - but not on sale - on two subsequent visits, and then a couple of months ago I believed it gone, never to be seen again, when it appeared neither on display nor on sale. I had espied it in a friend's neighbour's garden, and was grudgingly granted a small cutting, but unfortunately it never struck and I believed myself doomed to life without it. Happily today, there it was nestled among all the other $3.99 bargain plants. I resisted the urge to buy all of them - reminding myself sternly that violas spread like strawberries - and selected the strongest specimen I could find - already throwing out runners, but definitely not root bound. And so Viola Hederecea is now sitting on my dining table, awaiting planting out into my garden.

The herb section was eagerly poured over as usual, and an anise hyssop selected. Another that is good for the right sorts of insects, especially bees, and another that I used to grow but which has vanished somewhere along the way. I've now gotten much better at marking plants well, and saving seeds, so am anticipating that this will now continue to grow in my garden, and be identified by me correctly.

I also picked up another Stevia. I can't really say that I've grown it before as I've put in two plants previously, both of which died almost as soon as they were planted.

Lamenting the lack of normal sage (they only had purple) and tansy, I glanced over at the Organics section and found both sitting there. I had the most glorious sage bush for years, but after three or four house moves and many repottings/plantings it finally decided to sulk itself to death at my new house. I do have a new sage plant already, but it's currently refusing to thrive so I'm stacking the odds in my favour and giving it some competition to try and encourage it along. Tansy - again for the beneficial insects, and also to try making dye from - is another that I've had before, but which mysteriously disappeared, presumably submerged by weeds, in an unmarked container, never to be seen again.

I was all set to buy some comfrey as well, until I took one look at the leaves and recognised some of my many mystery plants. It's thriving in my garden, assuming it doesn't turn out to be a primrose (another possibility, again a result of my previous lack of good labelling practice) instead: looking at pictures online, I believe the leaf shape of each is slightly different, so I'll have a look at the plants when it's not raining to see if I can differentiate. Failing that, I'll know for certain when they flower.

Thinking at this point that I was about done, I made the mistake of walking past the fruit trees - and a sign which said "all fruit trees 25% off." On an idle whim, I decided to see if they had any quinces. They did. I normally buy about six kilos of quinces each year to make quince paste from for my feasts, so have been very keen to get my own tree. From my research, I'd pretty much decided on a Smyrna already, and given that it was the only variety on sale, this is what I now have. The sale brought it down to a price comparable to those online, without the shipping to worry about. The only (minor) concern was how to fit a three metre tall tree into a Mazda Familia?

While I was at it - and resigned to the fact that I clearly wasn't getting a fountain pen this fortnight - I decided I might as well check out the figs as well. A compact half metre high Malta joined me for the journey home.

At the counter, the girl quickly identified my lack of tree knowledge when she asked if I wanted her to top the quince for me. "Is that good?" I asked anxiously. It would certainly help it fit in the car better. She assured me that it was good, as it would encourage the tree to produce fruit lower down where I could pick it. She topped away, and I took my happy trolley load out to the car.

I expertly plonked my half metre fig in, then a boy half my age but with much better knowledge of such things helped me feed the quince into my car, so that the base ended up sitting on the floor behind the passenger's seat. This was an eminently sensible arrangement. I'd been going to fee it in the other way, so that the sack was lying sideways, thus ensuring a decent mess of soil in the boot. As it was, having been topped, the tips of the branches gently brushed the boot lid as it closed.

I was grinning ear to ear again on the drive home, still enjoying the sunshine and looking forward to a productive afternoon of gardening.

The only thing to slightly mar the return journey - perhaps inevitable really - was the fig tree. I don't know what sound a tree makes when it falls in the woods with no-one there to hear it, but I do know what sound a tree makes when it falls over in your car while you're driving. It's a soft thunk followed by the soft shhhshshhshs sound of the top layer of soil spilling out onto the boot floor. If I were a sensible person, I would have prepared for this by lining the boot with plastic first. The plastic in question is, however, folded neatly and stored safely in the garage at home.

Arriving home, I unloaded the car and decided to pause for lunch before heading into the garden. Alas, I was instead to be reminded that I do indeed live in Auckland: in the time it took me to eat my lunch, the skies had clouded over and began to unleash their bucketloads of rain, which continued all afternoon.

Still, ultimately this only increases my happiness: now I can anticipate a wondrous day of planting tomorrow, should the weather be so considerate as to be fine, or else several pleasant evenings winding down with some outdoor time after work.


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