It was a large garden, full of fruit trees of all varieties. There were two huge lemon trees, and several varieties of oranges in amongst the flower gardens. Down along the back fence I remember a line of apple trees, old varieties that we don’t see these days. I even remember their names--Johnathon, Cleopatra, Roman Beauty and Five Crown. I especially liked the Johnathon, a sweet-fleshed apple. There were peaches, pears, apricots, and several loquats. Nearer the house there were two large fig trees, big enough to climb in, and the canvas water-bag hung in their shady branches, to give us cold drinking water in the summer. Lots of fig jam was preserved.
The driveway at the front of the house was an avenue of sugar gums. They were a necessity on a farm for wood, for heating and cooking, as well as to provide shade for the working dog kennels. These trees were lopped regularly to give us wood and make a bushy canopy. Along the creek were red gums and grey box trees, some huge and very old. Along Nalinga Road, on the way into town, I remember several eucalypts with canoe shapes cut from them, evidence that aboriginals once lived in the area.
Another tree that was often found around farms was the pepper tree, providing shade around sheep yards and in the paddocks. An attractive tree with hanging foliage and clusters of pink covered berries, and a strong peppery smell. I particularly remember one, just outside our garden fence, where my brothers and I spent hours playing in summer. It was a gigantic spreading tree and the soil underneath was loose from years of composting leaves. We scraped roads for our toy trucks, heaped up dirt fences making paddocks for our sheep (dead Christmas beetles) and built miniature houses from old scraps of wood and broken bricks. I even pinched flowers from Mum’s garden to beautify our farm house gardens. We had built a small community under the tree, till Dad told us it was extending too far out from under the tree onto the driveway to the house gate. I’m sure Grandma was not very impressed with us crawling around in the dirt! There was also a swing suspended from a branch of this tree. One of the joys of childhood was swinging to and fro and daydreaming!
On the bank of the creek stood a Cootamundra wattle. It was a picture in early spring, covered in fluffy, bright yellow blooms. I remember my bike being decorated with yellow crepe paper and wattle branches for a street parade, and I was decked out in a bright yellow dress with wattle in my hair. I don’t recall winning any prizes, but I’m sure I made an impact!
I have always loved trees, and in my later years yearned to paint trees like my idol Hans Heysen, but sadly my attempts were disappointing. I’ve planted many trees in the garden and the paddock and I was especially fond of Mallee eucalypts with their straggly trunks and large vivid flowers. These met with varying success, not many liked our soil type.
My latest ambition was to grow a Ginko tree, an ancient type of tree with maiden-hair fern like leaves. I was delighted to find one at a market and found a place for it in the front yard. I had the impression it might be a very slow growing, but I was amazed at its size after fourteen years. It’s probably 20 feet high, a beautiful shape, and green and leafy now, before it turns a buttery yellow in autumn. I love the yellow carpet of leaves when they fall and am reluctant to rake them up.
Australia has beautiful trees, but a trip to California fulfilled my wish to see the tall coastal redwoods and the gigantic giant redwoods, which I have read are grown in parts of Victoria now.
It would be a dull world without trees.