This week we hear from Kylie Rutledge, The Moble Gardener. Kylie has raised her 4 daughters in far southwest Queensland, Australia, navigating both the beautiful and at times harsh landscape of the Australian bush. This week she speaks to us about how her garden shaped her children’s childhood, the strong connection and bond they built with their surroundings and the lessons it has taught not just her children but herself.
There has been much in the media here of late on resilience; I listened to a thoughtful interview only this week on the topic, especially with regards to children. As I spent today mustering a mob of well-adapted merino sheep, I had plenty of time to ponder on resilience and children. You see, you have plenty of time for pondering and wondering and considering when you are shifting sheep. It is a gift really, to have a day observing the wisdom of an old ewe with a lamb. She made me think on my own children and how they responded and interacted with our garden and what lessons it may have taught them.
When the children were little, the garden was our escape. It was a place we could all go and take a deep breath and breathe. The Moble garden was very new then; we were all new together in a way. The garden, the mother and her babies.
For me, there was an eternal list of things to be done and afterwards, a dream of things I would like to do. The garden was a place where all this came together.
For the children, the garden provided a veritable world of climbing, digging, swinging and running. It was whatever and wherever they wished to be, on that day. Where I saw space for another border bed or a path lined with roses, the girls saw a tree to trapeze from when they were in the circus. An overgrown corner ripe for clearing was their jungle with a hidden path. Only they knew the way through, and it was very dangerous for me to go there on my own…and we all knew what happened to James Morrison’s Mother!
As we expanded the garden fence, bit by bit, so we expanded the girls’ world. It was a constant joy for me to watch them in the garden, how they immersed themselves in their imaginations. As they grew, different parts of the garden were used differently. As their confidence and independence flourished, they inhabited the far corners, where the garden was always a little wilder and unkept. They built cubbies, lit campfires. The Moble garden was their introduction to the incredible landscape beyond the garden fence; a vast landscape they later drew in to their core and love. The girls have dust in their veins.
Memories. The joy of holding a flower to their nose and asking them to sniff. The wrinkled nose and the wide, twinkling eyes at their first scent of a jonquil. The wonder of those first discoveries. Then, to watch later as the little line-up crouched over another flower, cupped not so gently and sniffed for themselves. Sometimes there was a snort instead of a sniff, causing great shrieks of laughter.
The garden gave the children their first taste of self-sufficiency: peas, sweet and crisp from the trellis. Mulberries held in tight fists, smudged around faces. A clown’s smile. The girls always knew where the ducks were nesting, where the Willy was feeding her babies or where the pigeon’s nest was in the thick creeper. I was never allowed to prune that creeper; it seems Mother Pigeon had an eternal lease on it.
The garden was a place where they could be by themselves, experience solitude. I am sure there are still books tucked away in this garden I haven’t found yet. Their playground, where they recognised their first bird calls; a fascination of butterflies, bugs, worms, stinging bees and boundaries. For there was danger in the Moble garden as well.
While this garden provided an orchestra for the senses, it also introduced them to the reality of their environment and how they must be aware of that. Our garden is surrounded by deep water; it is the home of incredibly poisonous snakes at times; there are poisonous plants growing within. So, the children learnt from a very young age how important it was to respect boundaries, to be aware and at times, afraid. Important lessons in life really.
In many ways, I think I am just like that old ewe with her lamb. We were both trying to raise our babies and prepare them for life. Her garden is bigger and we both have our own challenges. On reflection, this garden has been an extraordinary teacher to mother and children alike; we have all grown up with it watching over us. A garden fosters independence, patience, imagination, responsibility. It sows the seeds of an inquiring mind. It needs tending whilst it tends in return. We can share our gardens and we can learn to enjoy the solitude of them, be comfortable in our own skin. Nature is our constant, quiet friend, whom we must respect. I think the garden has helped make us all resilient. I hope it has.
I asked little Miss Boodles what she thought of the garden. She told me: the garden means truth.
Now that, dear reader, is an answer for another day. Another day and another mob of sheep.
When you are gardening, don’t forget to leave some spots to grow some resilience, we all need it.