Young girl with sunflowers

Ellen with sunflowers

By Ellen

Mum always thought it was only a matter of time before I became I keen gardener. But on the eve of my 22nd birthday I still don’t feel any strong desire to rave about the brilliance of borage or the magnificence of mint. Growing up with my mother Penny Woodward was always a trade off between gardens and ice cream, gardens and play grounds, gardens and mini golf. My brother and I went with her to the gardens, if we behaved ourselves we got ice cream (or a visit to a play ground, or mini golf). This being said, some of the most memorable hours of my childhood were in gardens. Especially Heronswood in Dromana on the Mornington Peninsula, watching the goldfish and proudly identifying the elephant garlic. I came to know this allium quite well over the ten years Mum spent writing her book Garlic and friends.  Garden visits took us all over Australia, to find mazes, Avenues of Honour, new gardens and plant-oriented ways to write about our family holidays.
When I moved out of home at eighteen I was faced with my own plants. My general philosophy of plant it and ignore it was tested when I nurtured a spearmint plant on the windowsill of my very small room in the halls of residence. Plants were important to lots of people there, they brought some green life to otherwise very grey and brown rooms. One student’s windowsill was adorned with beer bottles, vodka bottles and parsley and carrot plants. Another had a small lemon tree he called Douglas.

Ellen's young hands showing how to plant seed from Growing Easy Herbs

My spearmint plant wilted but survived under my care and I soon added an aloe vera plant.This one I managed to over water. It drooped unhappily until I took it home to mum for some appropriate care. As I shifted houses my small plant entourage grew, and I am now the proud owner of a peppermint, which is better than spearmint, the same aloe vera that has so far survived three and a half years of my care, a chilli plant and a silver beet, all in pots.
I still don’t think I’m a gardener, but it is surprising what has seeped in. You know you’ve absorbed something when you can pick out mistletoe, mint, thyme and pineapple sage, when you can tell the difference between lemons and limes and be able to inform your housemates that that wilting tree is probably a nectarine (even though there was no fruit).

Ellen's older hands demonstrating how to divide costmary to replant.

Growing up with a garden photographer has meant also doing time as a hand model. It is the job I usually got because I was better at sitting still than my younger brother. So I’ve held secateurs as I pretended to cut any number of plants, planted seeds and cuttings, watered worm juice from mum’s new and very special watering can, trying very hard to keep my shadow out of the photo and I’ve held compost at every conceivable angle. For the best array of photos of my hands see Growing Easy Herbs for Beauty Fragrance and Flavour, my hands in that range from six years to twenty-one years.
Growing up with gardening has been an interesting experience, and one that I highly recommend. So introduce your child to gardens and plants, even if it is just so they know how wonderful garlic is, that mint tea is great for queasy stomachs and is so much better made with a fresh mint leaves, that aloe vera soothes burns and that you can use a sage leaf to clean your teeth when you’re separated from your toothbrush.