Nicla Byrnes writes:

Gardening is more than soil and productivity. It is frequently much more profound – intersecting with personal experiences, human interactions and sociological change. I was at my local nursery recently buying violets as a gift, African Violets. But found myself transported into childhood memories and witness to a touching experience of love and generosity by an older lady who reminded me of my grandmother.

Because it was February and my friend’s birthday motif is all purple and gold, African Violets seemed appropriate and I love violets. Who would have thought then of frangipanis? It was this older lady in the nursery who reminded me. She seemed distressed, distressed by her frangipani tree. How is that possible, for the frangipani is surely loved by most people? Everyone loves frangipanis, well just about anyway. It turns out, she loved frangipanis too. I don’t blame her. What’s not to love about a frangipani: relatively small but that’s okay, resilient, tropically darling, that distinct ambrosial scent, often pearly white and milky fresh with yolky centres. The flowers appear from December to April in Australia. You can barely burn a frangipani because they are determined to love the sun and I love that about frangipanis.

Like the shutters opening and closing on a summertime window, I saw pictures of childhood holidays in Coffs. Oh it was something beautiful up there. Doreen, my grandmother on Dad’s side, built her home in Coffs Harbour. It was before too many high-rise giants. It was like a country town back then. It was like plonking Hawaii into the outback a bit. There was so much sweet fruit and coloured flowers and beaches, beaches stretching miles and lapping waves and hilly topped banana plantations. I loved those days. It was a home away from home. I loved my grandmother on that side too, very much, and her sister Nancy. Nancy was a real gem. She loved me a lot. I felt that love and holidays then were something pretty magical to look forward to.

beautiful-frangi-pangi-flowersDrifting back to the present, the lady in the nursery was upset because a stranger had broken away branches from her beloved frangipani tree, possibly children thinking it was a bit of a lark. She was sharing a photograph with the sales assistant. She wanted advice on saving the broken branches. My first thought was that I was in a hurry and why would she hold the queue up with a long drawn-out story about a couple of frangipani branches. The rest of the tree was still in tact, but then I stood back and listened to the story and it got me wondering. It got me wondering about why she might not just buy another tree and whack it in the ground whole or leave the main part of the original to regrow. It struck me then that she was most probably not very rich, that it might not even be an option to buy copious amounts of new trees and flowers. In fact, while our system here in Australia for the aged is better than some, it would be quite impossible at times, to live off a pension and still have money spare for luxuries such as frangipani trees. Then it struck me that there was much more to the story too.

The Sales Assistant looked to me frustrated by the hold up in proceedings but I wasn’t in a hurry now.

“No, no, don’t mind me. I’d like to learn about saving the frangipani branches too. They can be propagated from cuttings right? ”

” Yes, you could do that. Let me check with our horticulturalist to be sure,” she replied, still a little concerned by the slowing of a busy day and preoccupation to get on top of time. Ironically the garden will teach you that time won’t hurry up always in ways you might want and that’s okay and that’s actually pretty great.

It turned out, you can save frangipani branches.

“It was a very important tree,” she said to me, the lady in the nursery. “It was a gift. It was a gift from someone I knew. It was a very important tree.”

And I knew then, it had come from a very important person.

The sales assistant went to collect some soil that might help with propagation and then the lady stopped her…

“Could I come back? Could I come back with the branches and someone who knows how to plant them might help me? ”

And I knew then it wasn’t just about the frangipani tree. All of us search for healing or love through community and connections and the nursery was going to help nurse her soul. As corny as it might sound, it was true and it is true because they said “Sure, come on in. We’ll give you a hand.”

This was in a smaller nursery with perhaps more room for love and less concentration on “productivity” and spreadsheets metering success but it got me thinking. It got me thinking that there’s no reason why a larger nursery might not continue to foster this kind of connection. It’s because money’s pretty dull if you have to serve yourself. And the best shine comes off people and the sun of course.