The Amateur Gardener
by Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson
The first step in amateur gardening is to sit down and consider what good
you are going to get by it. If you are only a tenant by the month, as
most people are, it is obviously not of much use for you to plant a
fruit orchard or an avenue of oak trees. What you want is something that
will grow quickly, and will stand transplanting, for when you move it
would be a sin to leave behind you the plants on which you have spent so
much labour and so much patent manure.
We knew a man once who was a bookmaker by trade—and a Leger bookmaker at
that—but had a passion for horses and flowers. When he "had a big win",
as he occasionally did, it was his custom to have movable wooden
stables, built on skids, put up in the yard, and to have tons of the
best soil that money could buy carted into the garden of the premises
which he was occupying.
Then he would keep splendid horses, and grow rare roses and show-bench
chrysanthemums. His landlord passing by would see the garden in a blaze
of colour, and promise himself to raise the bookmaker's rent next
However, when the bookmaker "took the knock", as he invariably did at
least twice a year, it was his pleasing custom to move without giving
notice. He would hitch two cart-horses to the stables, and haul them
right away at night. He would not only dig up the roses, trees, and
chrysanthemums he had planted, but would also cart away the soil he had
brought in; in fact, he used to shift the garden bodily. He had one
garden that he shifted to nearly every suburb in Sydney; and he always
argued that the change of air was invaluable for chrysanthemums.
Being determined, then, to go in for gardening on common-sense principles,
and having decided on the shrubs you mean to grow, the next
consideration is your chance of growing them.
If your neighbour keeps game fowls, it may be taken for granted that
before long they will pay you a visit, and you will see the rooster
scratching your pot plants out by the roots as if they were so much
straw, just to make a nice place to lie down and fluff the dust over
himself. Goats will also stray in from the street, and bite the young
shoots off, selecting the most valuable plants with a discrimination
that would do credit to a professional gardener.
It is therefore useless to think of growing delicate or squeamish plants.
Most amateur gardeners maintain a lifelong struggle against the devices
of Nature; but when the forces of man and the forces of Nature come into
conflict Nature wins every time. Nature has decreed that certain plants
shall be hardy, and therefore suitable to suburban amateur gardeners;
the suburban amateur gardener persists in trying to grow quite other
plants, and in despising those marked out by Nature for his use. It is
to correct this tendency that this article is written.
The greatest standby to the amateur gardener should undoubtedly be the
blue-flowered shrub known as "plumbago". This homely but hardy plant
will grow anywhere. It naturally prefers a good soil, and a sufficient
rainfall, but if need be it will worry along without either. Fowls
cannot scratch it up, and even the goat turns away dismayed from its
hard-featured branches. The flower is not strikingly beautiful nor
ravishingly scented, but it flowers nine months out of the year;
smothered with street dust and scorched by the summer sun, you will find
that faithful old plumbago plugging along undismayed. A plant like this
should be encouraged—but the misguided amateur gardener as a rule
The plant known as the churchyard geranium is also one marked out by
Providence for the amateur; so is Cosmea, which comes up year after year
where once planted. In creepers, bignonia and lantana will hold their
own under difficulties perhaps as well as any that can be found. In
trees the Port Jackson fig is a patriotic one to grow. It is a fine
plant to provide exercise, as it sheds its leaves unsparingly, and
requires the whole garden to be swept up every day.
Your aim as a student of Nature should be to encourage the survival of the
fittest. There is a grass called nut grass, and another called
Parramatta grass, either of which holds its own against anything living
or dead. The average gardening manual gives you recipes for destroying
these. Why should you destroy them in favour of a sickly plant that
needs constant attention? No. The Parramatta grass is the selected of
Nature, and who are you to interfere with Nature?
Having decided to go in for strong, simple plants that will hold their
own, and a bit over, you must get your implements of husbandry.
The spade is the first thing, but the average ironmonger will show you an
unwieldy weapon only meant to be used by navvies. Don't buy it. Get a
small spade, about half-size—it is nice and light and doesn't tire the
wrist, and with it you can make a good display of enthusiasm, and earn
the hypocritical admiration of your wife. After digging for half-an-hour
or so, get her to rub your back with any of the backache cures. From
that moment you will have no further need for the spade.
A barrow is about the only other thing needed; anyhow, it is almost a
necessity for wheeling cases of whisky up to the house. A rake is useful
when your terrier dog has bailed up a cat, and will not attack it until
the cat is made to run.
Talking of terrier dogs, an acquaintance of ours has a dog that does all
his gardening. The dog is a small elderly terrier with a failing memory.
As soon as the terrier has planted a bone in the garden the owner slips
over, digs it up and takes it away. When that terrier goes back and
finds the bone gone, he distrusts his memory, and begins to think that
perhaps he has made a mistake, and has dug in the wrong place; so he
sets to work, and digs patiently all over the garden, turning over acres
of soil in the course of his search. This saves his master a lot of
The sensible amateur gardener, then, will not attempt to fight with Nature
but will fall in with her views. What more pleasant than to get out of
bed at 11.30 on a Sunday morning; to look out of your window at a lawn
waving with the feathery plumes of Parramatta grass, and to see beyond
it the churchyard geranium flourishing side by side with the plumbago
and the Port Jackson fig?
The garden gate blows open, and the local commando of goats, headed by an
aged and fragrant patriarch, locally known as De Wet, rushes in; but
their teeth will barely bite through the wiry stalks of the Parramatta
grass, and the plumbago and the figtree fail to attract them, and before
long they stand on one another's shoulders, scale the fence, and
disappear into the next-door garden, where a fanatic is trying to grow
After the last goat has scaled your neighbour's fence, and only De Wet is
left, your little dog discovers him. De Wet beats a hurried retreat,
apparently at full speed, with the dog exactly one foot behind him in
frantic pursuit. We say apparently at full speed, because experience has
taught that De Wet can run as fast as a greyhound when he likes; but he
never exerts himself to go faster than is necessary to keep just in
front of whatever dog is after him.
Hearing the scrimmage, your neighbour comes on to his verandah, and sees
the chase going down the street.
"Ha! that wretched old De Wet again!" he says. "Small hope your dog has of
catching him! Why don't you get a garden gate like mine, so that he
won't get in?"
"No; he can't get in at your gate," is the reply; "but I think his
commando are in your back garden now."
Then follows a frantic rush. Your neighbour falls downstairs in his haste,
and the commando, after stopping to bite some priceless pot plants of
your neighbour's as they come out, skips easily back over the fence and
through your gate into the street again.
If a horse gets in his hoofs make no impression on the firm turf of the
Parramatta grass, and you get quite a hearty laugh by dropping a chair
on him from the first-floor window.
The game fowls of your other neighbour come fluttering into your garden,
and scratch and chuckle and fluff themselves under your plumbago bush;
but you don't worry. Why should you? They can't hurt it; and, besides,
you know that the small black hen and the big yellow one, who have
disappeared from the throng, are even now laying their daily egg for you
behind the thickest bush.
Your little dog rushes frantically up and down the front bed of your
garden, barking and racing, and tearing up the ground, because his rival
little dog, who lives down the street, is going past with his master,
and each pretends that he wants to be at the other—as they have
pretended every day for the past three years. The performance he is
going through doesn't disturb you. Why should it? By following the
directions in this article you have selected plants he cannot hurt.
After breakfasting at noon, you stroll out, and, perhaps, smooth with your
foot, or with your spade, the inequalities made by the hens; you gather
up casually the eggs they have laid; you whistle to your little dog, and
go out for a stroll with a light heart.