Most gardeners can't resist a peek at someone else's garden, and when that spot is almost always hidden from view, the temptation is just that little bit stronger to check it out. A few doors down the hill in my street, a house is for sale. While I won't be attending the open house inspection this Saturday afternoon (as so many locals invariably do, God bless 'em), I'm more than willing to take the online 'tour' of the property. All I'm interested in is the backyard. And it's marvellous: a snapshot from 1954, frozen in time. It ought to be heritage-listed: Aussie suburbia mid baby-boom, before we discovered gardening. Lots of lawn for the kids to play on. What else do you need?
If you know the artist's work you'll understand my first reaction of 'Jeffrey Smart painting' when I saw this image of tidy, modern minimalism (who said soulless? Nonsense!).
It has instantaneously become my "if I win Lotto" fantasy – I'd buy it. And no, I'm afraid I wouldn't be preserving it for heritage listing. It'd become my gardening blank canvas, which it almost is, already.
But I do love the way this is a time capsule of backyards about 50 years ago. I knew so many like this when I was growing up. The aluminium shed probably was an addition in the 70s or 80s, but most of the other details are authentic, such as:
• The clothes line with its dinky path from the laundry, almost certainly a 50s relic. Back then, all laundries were the last room in the house. Now it's the kitchen which is the last room in the house.
• Almost no usable shade anywhere, apart from inside the house. No wonder our skin cancer rates are so high!
• The 'almost all-lawn' design philosophy (and you wonder why we're good at cricket – every Aussie backyard a breeding ground for the Test team of tomorrow)
• The parsimonious concession from him of: 'OK, you can have one shrub, but hide it behind the shed so it doesn't get in the way of our cricket pitch'
• The outdoor furniture – indestructible wrought iron frame with timber slats bolted on. These immaculate examples probably have been sanded down and repainted every five to 10 years. It doesn't look like this family has ever done much trendy 'outdoor living' so wear and tear on the furniture probably hasn't been too bad.
• The 'cubist' house extension deserves a mention. It is a bit of a beacon of ugliness in the local area. Could become a tropical greenhouse, I guess, if we make it glass all-round?
(• And I cannot help but mention the next-down-the-hill neighbour's satellite dish in the background, which points to the Philippines (or at least a Filipino-friendly satellite). You can almost gauge the ethnicity of residences in my area by the direction in which their satellite dishes point. Portuguese here, Macedonian there, Vietnamese over there, etc etc. They all seem to be saying, from their far-off outpost in the antipodes "hello home, hello home, we can hear you...")
But I digress, back to my 'Lotto Win' fantasy. (If not overcome by guilt pangs of vandalism to a pristine historical relic from the baby-boomer years), the first thing to go would be the huge, ugly aluminium shed (where's a good vaporiser when you need one?). I'd probably install a much smaller one down the side, extending the existing garage. That way, from the back door, you wouldn't see a shed at all, just garden.
Second thing would be the total removal of the lawn. Gone. I know that I'd probably risk being brutally assassinated late one night by the previous owner, unable to cope with my philistinism, but I'll take that risk.
As for the rest of the grand plan, so far it's all just a blank canvas to play with. I'm thinking orchards and proper vegie patches in raised beds, as my little backyard garden of 9m x 7.5m is just a bit too small for me. If I won squillions it would be nice to buy a blank-canvas extra garden nearby and extend my gardening horizons (and by the way, there's no way I'm leaving the action-packed inner-city lifestyle and moving to the country!).
Not sure what I'd do with the house. It's pretty ugly, so I guess I could just knock it down entirely and turn the whole block into a garden... there's an idea!