Any successful gardener will tell you that the easiest way to a great garden is to grow whatever loves the conditions you can provide. Grow shade seekers in the shade, don’t plant bog-lovers in sand, and stay clear of cold-climate lovelies if you live in most parts of Sydney. It’s so simple and so sensible. Yet how few of us fail to fall victim to some kind of plant envy!
For Japanese chef Hideo Dekura, the soft spot is fresh wasabi. The plant loves to grow in the fresh-running cold water and rich soil of Japanese snow-fed mountain streams.
Not so easy to replicate in Chatswood, but Dekura has given it a go. More than once. An early attempt involved growing the wasabi root in a cool room in a refurbished fish tank that could move the water over the roots. The plant died; Dekura suspects the problem was that the water wasn’t fresh. I suspect it was more than that. Other Sydney-based wasabi aficionados have confessed that they water their potted specimens with ice cubes. Again, this seems to be a short-lived success, but if you’d like to try, Diggers has plants on offer. Its cultural notes are brief but encouraging – grow in cool, dense shade with constantly moist soil. Dekura is following the advice and so far his potted wasabi is going well.
Food is not the only passion. Perfume lovers buy brown boronia in spring to enjoy its much-vaunted scent, and then compost it, knowing it can’t easily be grown in a garden. I can’t resist the buy-then-watch-die drama of the brilliant blue West Australian Lechenaultia biloba. And then there’s the glory of the peony.
Mickey Robertson, who gardens at Glenmore House in Camden, can’t say no to glimpses of Britain. Her bluebells finished on a westerly-blowing morning last month, just a fortnight after they bloomed. Growing them is a doomed endeavour: she planted two bulbs to start with and some 20 years later there are only a dozen, but there are sentimental reasons behind her crusade for a spring sea of bluebells. “My husband picked me a bunch of bluebells in a glade in Scotland and I fell in love with him so I have to grow them. I know I shouldn’t, but it’s only a tiny pocket.”
Perhaps it’s time to change the rule: plant what loves your conditions in most of your garden, and plant what you love where you can enjoy, however briefly, whatever it offers. Robertson routinely kills another must-grow British classic, lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis. “I have just got a new one and have it in a pot.” The ladies mantle won’t survive the summer, but if, before its death, droplets of rain pool and glitter on the leaves, and the plant offers up its froth of feathery flowers, “it will give me inordinate joy”, she says. What else is gardening for!