Some people have rescue pets; I have a rescue garden. It’s the one in Sydney, begun by my in-laws when the house was built in 1966. In the past decades, it suffered severely from benign neglect. Three years after we took a metaphorical machete to the overgrowth, it’s coming along as a blend of venerable old camellia trees and exciting new natives.
Pride of place, however, belongs to the hydrangea in the fountain garden.
The fountain garden started out as a blank brick wall, the back of the freestanding garage, sad graveyard for an exercise bike and other household castoffs. As we ate and read on the verandah, that was our unfortunate view.
Today it’s a mini-sanctuary, featuring a wall fountain and mini-garden bounded by a beautiful stone path that Ross built with a pile of stones abandoned out back. Its backdrop is an Italianate cloister wall covered in fig ivy. The planting is cottagey, including leafy lilly pilly bushes (some rounded, one upright), grasses, acanthus, and strappy doers (dianella, clivia, agapanthus, and iris — many rescued from other spots in the yard).
They’re all planted in deference to the magnificent hydrangea, sited at the far end of the wall in hope of concealing some unsightliness beyond.
I discovered the hydrangea by accident. I was cleaning up an immense bed of grand old agapanthus at the front of the house when I came upon a scrawny little twig with a single leaf hanging on for dear life. In Texas we can’t grow such an exotic beauty, but I recognized the hydrangea leaf from my former life in the Northeast.
I realized that this poor plant had been clinging to life for a very, very long time, and, I thought, what the heck. I gently removed it from the ground and swaddled it in the richest potting soil I could mix. When I returned to Sydney months later, it had grown happily enough for me to make it the centerpiece of the fountain garden. Three years on, the hydrangea continues to double in size each year.
Every December I’m an over-excited kid returning to my rescue garden. I bound out of the car and head for the verdant, buoyant, happy hydrangea. And my heart swells.