I have a newly created shady area along the fence that I want to plant Bergenia in. Bergenia is a very old-fashioned perennial with glossy heart shaped leaves and pink pannicles (pannicles... yes looked it up) of flowers that last forever on the plant and in the vase. This little plant is one of my earliest memories and, as I can see the last of my memories approaching, for whatever reason, and a bit too rapidly I think, maybe it would be a nice thing to plant in the vacant space in my garden. Echo of the past sort of thing.
About 1953, or maybe 1954, or about the time of the Queen’s Coronation (I remember that because Dad brought home a book about it), our family lived at the rear of a carpentry shop in Glenferrie. It was small, just a few rooms, dark and always smelled of timber and wafts of beer from the three stories of Hotel next door. The narrow yard was brick walled on both sides and we used the rear entry from a cobbled laneway for access. There was no front access. At the bottom of one wall was an open gutter running out to the lane and either side of it was planted with pink flowering Bergenia. It is the only brightly coloured memory I have of that time.
I had just started at Glenferrie Primary school, probably two blocks away, through all the lanes and backyards. My nana taught me the short cuts. The longest shortcut was through what we called the brickyards. All of Glenferrie was built in red brick I’m sure, but they made briquettes there. My mum said I had to put a briquette in my schoolbag every night when I came home. I asked why and Nana said, “Because it is good for your posture young lady”.
One of the highlights of my life then was the weekly outing to the Glenferrie Library. We got dressed up a bit and all of us, Mum, Dad, sometimes Nana, my baby brother in the pram and me trooped out the back into Luton Lane and made our way to the Town Hall on Burwood Road. What a building! To me it looked like a giant castle and it wasn’t red brick!
The library was next to the Town Hall. So many bright lights. The children’s books were all on the bottom shelf and it was here my lifelong love of books and the value of reading began. We needed the pram to get all our books home. Often, on the way home, at the front of the hotel was a very smelly old lady with a bigger pram than ours. She was selling bunches of violets from it. Sometimes, if it was “payweek”, Dad would buy some for Mum.
Back to my gardening efforts. Up to Mitre 10, buy a few pots of Bergenia and back home to digging in my memories.
I cannot help but notice the spelling of Bergenia on the label is incorrect. What is the world coming to? The plant, named after a German botanist and physician Karl von Bergen in 1794, appears to be native to Siberia and similar areas. That’s a bit like where I feel I’ve been during our various Covid-19 lockdown states! Go Karl! I figure if Bergenia can bloom in the Siberian winter, it will grow here for me and keep some tiny remnants of colorful memories alive.