All the small things – making a garden on the east coast of Tasmania

This is an excerpt from the first [overly long] blog post I made, back in 2013.


My naivety and arrogance was profound.

I have had great successes with gardens in Brisbane and then Launceston, although worlds apart. The basic gardening principles are similar; however, the shift to a cold Mediterranean climate from the subtropical initially presented some challenges. The seasons were topsy-turvy, with rain in the winter. Germination was slow and I could no longer poke a green stick in the ground and watch its leaves unfurl as its roots expanded under the ground, in a period of weeks. Both locales, however, had good soil, plentiful sun and water on tap.

I had grown up gardening with blousy, soft, over-coloured, sub-tropical species such as Heliconia, Oleander and Brugmansia (formerly Datura). But secretly, passionately and inspired by avidly perusing English gardening books as a child I craved perennials: Primula, Phlox, true Geranium, Dianthus. I yearned for highly scented Narcissus. I longed to pick bunches of Lilac and Azalea molle and place boughs of Wintersweet in tall jars to perfume the heated winter house when the sky outside was still charcoal grey. I ached, yes ached, to pick my own Sweetpeas, and even daydreamed of myself as a 19th Century flower girl (in mittens), selling tiny bunches of purple and white Sweet Violets at Covent Garden to wealthy London ladies.

There is something magical about these flowers, the subjects of myth and the symbols of Victorian emotion; they are the gentle-ladies of the garden. And they are pink, white, lavender and blue, not the garish, over-baked oranges and yellows of sub-tropical flowers (and leaves). I eventually successfully grew most of the above in my Launceston garden except for the stubborn Wintersweet – Chimonanthus praecox, which has languished behind a stoic Daphne odorata for years. Even as I write I am accompanied by a vase of pale golden and cream Paperwhites, Jonquils and other Narcissus. The smell is elixir. My spirit is lifted.


I needed, perhaps after travelling through North America, Europe and Japan, four seasons, each differentiated by a distinct change in weather and vegetation. There is something to be said for the patience learnt from waiting for nature to turn, literally, a leaf. There is delight in anticipating the seed germinating, warming in the subsoil, responding to cues invisible to obtuse humans: small changes in temperature and lengthening of daylight. No mechanised invention, to my mind, can rival the complexity, and the simplicity, of this little genetic powerhouse.

But I digress. As the garden in Launceston became established, self-seeding and abundant I coincidentally bought a two-room shack at the beach on the northeast coast of Tasmania and my world was completely altered, in terms of gardening. The coast is generally five or six degrees warmer in the winter than inland, and without the crippling frosts and tedious grey days. In preparation for my move I potted plants from the inland garden to transplant into their new maritime environment. I researched, located and bought endemic east coast species, as tubestock, expecting them to flourish instantly. No my great despair, many faltered. I replanted, mulched and hoped.

My perseverance is paying off. Two (seemingly long) years after I planted my first tree, an endemic Oyster Bay Pine (Callitris rhomboidea), it is now over my head in height. I have learnt to pot up all tubestock into 200mm pots with quality potting mix, and to resist planting these out until there is good root development. My own nursery of cutting-grown and seed-raised endemics is thriving, out of the wind, with regular and, importantly, deep watering.

My ignorance still exists. Gardening is a lifetime of learning, watching, even listening. My initial zeal to plant anything, anywhere in the sand has been tempered by plant loss or growth retardation. I am now even more studious and patient. I do not have the luxury (nor, thankfully, the expense) of town water, but I do have the four distinct seasons as a guide and a kinder growing climate (than both Launceston and Jarman’s). And I know where tiny, secret, untended, unnamed and possibly quite rare Paperwhites are pushing their creamy heads through a patch of grass, within walking distance of my shack. My bliss is complete.

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