|Illustration: Pippa Fay
When I battled the wind, frost, drought, rabbits, hares and livestock in my hill country garden I dreamed of a kinder climate. I dreamed of a warm and sheltered garden near the sea, a garden where I would grow tomatoes in the hot sun, a garden that would not be prey to rabbits and hares, sheep and wandering horses. I saw myself wafting around in a windless garden through clouds of roses, plucking
apricots and peaches from laden branches and picking sun-ripened tomatoes from trailing vines.
I'm building my new garden this spring, on a slash in a hill overlooking a vast cross-hatched plain of trees and paddocks. There is no sign of the sea. There is no shelter and there are no clouds of roses, no fruit trees and no tomatoes ripening in the sun. We have mounded an ornamental hummock and planted it with hardy natives; the plants are half buried in pea straw to conserve the precious rain and the vulnerable plants are encircled with black rubber tyres to protect them from hares and rabbits.
Basil the fox terrier is employed to catch rabbits and hares but at night Basil prefers to sleep curled into a tight ball with his nose tucked under his tail. You cannot smell a rabbit or a hare with your nose tucked into your bottom, I tell him, but he pretends not to hear me.
In the lee of the hummock I'm laying out a large vegetable garden barricaded with a rabbit-proof trellis fence upon which I shall espalier apricot and peach trees. In a corner of the vegetable garden there will be a glasshouse strung with tomatoes ripening in the warm air. To the east of the house
I will plant a rose arbour to catch the early morning sun (and camouflage the septic tank); around the perimeter of the garden I'll plant shelter trees. The outer fortification, an impenetrable fence to protect my garden from livestock, has already been erected.
We must not expect our dreams delivered ready-made. We have to build them.
I'm building my new garden too. It's also on a hillside - on the side of a volcano. We are on the lava flow from its crater. I learned this from a near neighbour whose niece I met at playcentre. The niece said, "You must meet my aunt," and since then I am delighted to be the recipient of much hospitality and garden lore. Diana has listed for me all the plants she thinks will thrive on my (small) mountainside. Her husband told me the most essential tool here is a crowbar, for levering up volcanic boulders.
Diana knows my plans for an edible garden for children but told me I was to forget apricots, peaches and nectarines. Too many fungal diseases. So I will plant apples and pears and citrus. I have already planted two limes, a lemon, an orange and a persimmon.
The garden had a large banana palm. An arborist friend of my son Robert looked at the tattered leaves and sighed when I told him I wanted to be rid of it. "It's a family," he said. "There's the grandfather and the parent stems and those are the babies." No! I didn't want to hear that. He went away, probably to sob in the car, and I started to dig, wielding the crowbar like a pro. I discovered you can just haul the clumps down, one family member at a time, then stamp on them and twist them
to free them from the root ball, then toss them, like cabers in the Highland Games, down the slope of the garden. That weekend we removed half a tonne of banana family from the garden.
Robert, Mia and Tane filled the trailer, but it was I who had broken up the happy banana tribe. In order to create, you first have to destroy.
It is hard work starting over again, but it's a way of putting down deep roots so that neither we, nor our gardens, nor our dreams, can be blown over by the wind.