Do you have a cabbage tree in your new garden? You said once that you’d never be without one so I suppose that, if there isn’t a cabbage tree, you will plant one. I’m going to miss the cabbage trees I left behind in my garden; they’ll be flowering soon and I will not be there to smell the musky perfume that scents the air at dusk. I loved to loiter near them as I took the washing from the line in the late afternoon. It was like idling in a perfume factory.
The sweet flowers and the clusters of rapier-like leaves are the beautiful side of ti touka, the cabbage tree. The other side is full of malice. The leaves lie in wait on the grass, ambushing the lawnmower and strangling the blades; they defiantly refuse to decompose in the compost heap and the moment you turn your back after picking the dried rapiers from the lawn the mother tree begins littering all over again. To avoid the litter problem, a gardener must diligently strip the brown leaves from the trunks before they fall. Not being a diligent gardener, I never did.
Occasionally, as a treat, I employed a gardener to tame my shrubs and groom the flax borders. John was diligent; he stripped every last brown leaf from the cabbage trees and he tied them in neat bundles and set them aside. Why he was so fastidious I had no idea. I used to reunite the bundles with the prunings after he’d gone. One day, while visiting a friend, I noticed neatly tied bundles like John’s in a basket beside her hearth.
“What do you do with the cabbage tree bundles?” I asked her.
“Kindling,” she replied. “They are the most marvellous fire starters.” Poor John, how carelessly I treated his kindness.
Despite their incendiary virtues, I’m not sure about cabbage trees in my new garden. Unlike you, I think I could live without them. When I left my garden I was faced with the dilemma of what to take. Like Noah preparing for the great flood, I planned to take two of everything but, when the digging day arrived, I took only my herbs. A cook without fresh herbs to cut is a cook on the cusp of a culinary crisis.
Thanks for the memory
I have planted a cabbage tree wherever I’ve lived, so maybe I will plant one in Auckland. But I’m not planning long-term right now. I’m leaving tomorrow and thinking only one day at a time. My home has been reduced to a pile of boxes, stored somewhere in my new city.
The one thing that isn’t in boxes is the garden. Today I said goodbye to it. I looked at the budding roses, all the bulbs dying back into the carpet of self-seeded honeywort, forget-me-not and larkspur and I decided that in my new world of Auckland volcanoes and sudden downpours I’d start all over again. I decided not to take anything at all from this cottage garden.
I tidied up for the new owners and pulled out lots of sweet peas that were covering up shrubs and annuals, so they’d be able to see the seasonal shape of the garden and know what to expect. (The garden is a bit like a fireworks display: you wait and you don’t know what’s going to shoot up next or when.)
Then Jane came around for the last of our Sunday afternoon walks – we’ve been doing them for 25 years now – and she said, “What’s that?” We looked at a dead little shrub in the newly exposed soil, leaning over, desperate to get away from the encroaching sweet peas. It was a ginkgo tree. I planted it two years ago, it got covered with sweet peas and I forgot it was there.
“Why did you buy it?” asked Jane
“It’s great for seasonal colour and it’s meant to be good for the memory. Ginkgo leaf tea stops you forgetting things.”
“Hmm,” said Jane. “Shame it hasn’t got any leaves on it.”
But we could see little buds on the stems. “I’ll take it with me,” I said. “It’s a battler and perhaps it will stop me from forgetting Wellington.”
So we dug it up and discovered I’d planted it without removing the little pot it was in at the garden centre. How had I done that? I never do that! But there it was. So, in my new house I will give a ginkgo the opportunity to spread its roots in rich volcanic soil and grow to produce many leaves for ginkgo tea. And I will never forget anything ever again.
Story: Janice Marriott & Virginia Pawsey