From time to time, however, perhaps every six months, I hear a knock on the door and answer it to find either Mr #59 or Mr #63. Just as my father and grandfather were responsible for their back yards, so Mr#59 and Mr#63 have responsibility for theirs. They invariably have ‘something to report’ and it’s invariably about the back yard or the side garden. And.. they have to report their issue to me – there’s no Mr#61 at my house.
For each of us ‘Our Back Yard’ is a special place, a special space, however we see this rather differently.
As owner of #61 I have a rather ‘let your garden go’ philosophy of gardening which appears, on occasion, to cause consternation to the Mr#59 and Mr#63, who have very neat gardens. I have a ‘gums and roses’ garden. I love the two gum trees in my garden, one in the front, the other in the back garden, overhanging the rather large and slowly disintegrating shed. I love the gums when in flower; the birds which frequent them; the smell of the leaves when I happen to be in the garden early in the morning. I love the fact that they work against climate change, breathing oxygen into the atmosphere for much of the day; especially as I need some carbon offsets as I still haven’t quite stopped using my underfloor heating. I don’t mind the leaves, or the fact that the lawn is hard to grow. And I love ivy covered fences. I love the oranges, lemons, cumquats, mandarine trees in the little orchard behind my back shed, especially when they are in flower and, on a sunny day, transport me back to the orange trees of Valencia in southern Spain.
Mr #59 is responsible for a charming back garden designed by his wife and enjoys growing vegetables in an orderly, well maintained space which abuts my back left hand side fence and back shed. My orange trees almost hang over it. A few years ago the bamboo between the shed and fenceline started spreading thickly and rampantly; just as a few years ago a fruit fly problem spread to Benalla and to my little orchard. Oranges drop on the ground on my side of the fence near his vegetable patch which I often just ‘don’t see’ until it is too late. From time to time there will be a knock on the door, and it’s Mr #59, ‘Now Bev, about the bamboo’ or Now, Bev, I need to talk to you about the oranges’. I do wish I could just look around at (the nonexistent) Mr #61 and with a knowing and pleading look say ‘Over to you,dear!’, but no such luck. I have to deal with it!
Mr #63 has a very neat, almost manicured garden and appeared happiest when using his leaf blower. Until a year or so ago Mr #63 was a relatively frequent visitor with a longer list of expectations. Sadly Mr #63 passed away recently in Cooinda, and while in latter years he would stay for a chat about the war years after reporting my back yard’s latest misdemeanour–gum leaves causing problems; a gum tree sucker growing too high; a fence being raised by native fir trees; or leaves on their washing line. There were so many times when I would loved to have said…. ‘If you wait a moment, I’ll just get Mr #61 for you’. No such luck! I’d breathe deeply and deal with it. Some thousands of dollars and a brief lull later, there’d be another knock on the door.
Lest I give you the wrong impression, I don’t completely let my garden go. I’ve been very lucky to have had Mr #57 as my lawn, edges and pruning man for the past twenty years. I also have a friend who has a gardening service who will ‘cut things back’ and has a great way with the ivy.
Seen in a positive light though, the growth and leaves of my gum trees; my orchard of fruit trees and the recent introduction of fruit fly; spreading bamboo; ivy growing into trees; hoses left on overnight occasionally flooding adjoining backyards, have led to at least some contact with my neighbours.
I’m actually feeling a little sad at changes brought by time. I miss Mr #63 popping in for a chat about the war, though I don’t miss his list of jobs for me to do. It won’t be long before his house is sold—before there’s a knock on the door from the new Mr #63! It’s also sad that Mr #59 is not as well these days. Where years ago he would have popped in to ask if he could ‘have a go at’ at the bamboo; these days he’s barely coping with his own chores. He knocks at the door with a request that I pick up the oranges under the trees; get rid of a tree on the fence line, and such like, and it’s over to me.
Though never a gardener, I can’t do nearly as much as I did 20 years ago, either! Oh to be able to get up ladders to clean the spouts again! At present I’m still living in #61 and dealing with whatever comes, but I’m not sure for how much longer. I’m living in fear of knocks on the door about ‘fence replacement’! A couple of young gum trees are growing quite tall near the side fence –and I’m keeping an eye on them.
So, this is it, coping with ‘Our Back Yards’ in the third age, enjoying our special ‘back yard’ spaces while we can, aware that there will too soon come a time, in the fourth age, when our back yard may well be a thin piece of land between a fence and the back of a nursing home…