One With Nature by Julia Clugston

Issue TwelveIssue Twelve Non-FictionNon-Fiction

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My family is very observant of nature. We know which plants are native, which ones are weeds and how old trees are just by looking at them. My family home is near a National Park; its large and beautiful panoramic views are my simple reminder that I am home. In spring, the wattles and flowers of gum trees bloom, and in summer everything dries to a crisp, creating a layer of fire fuel.


My family follows orchid season intensely. They participate in the Backyard Bird Count program with the ABC and make sure they are planting seeds and trees ready for the next generation, providing homes for insects and birds. Our garden isn’t flawless; it can be a mess, and can look boring during the winter season, but it’s a project nonetheless. So, when the flowers bloom, it doesn’t matter if it isn’t neat and tidy because its blossoms bring so much joy (and sneezes) to visitors and to us. Many things could have been done to make it flourish, but we didn’t have the water or the time to bring that idea to life.


The garden is my mum’s sanctuary, is my dad’s business, and was my playground. I would build cubby houses, dig holes, make miniature animal and fairy farms and run tracks around the garden beds.


There was a lot of love and good intention put into each native planted in the ground. We watched these plants be blown over in autumn, freeze in winter, become a home for birds and insects in spring and crisp dry over summer. With every inch of my mum’s heart, she poured all her love into the garden, it was a generous love.  Our garden was a wonder to watch through the seasons.


The inside of our house was wooden and already nature-like and therefore didn’t need to have plants. My parents didn’t bring plants inside – only bunches of flowers that didn’t make us sneeze. This made the garden outside so special; the sun reflecting at different angles created interesting perspectives to draw the plants and bring them to life on the paper.


One day, my Nanna came to visit, bless her old and caring soul. She always came with gifts, whether it was a special occasion or not. She, too, was a nature-lover, and though her plants were mainly outside, they covered the place like an indoor plant house, and they grew strong and green. Our plants were often grey, sturdy and bush-like, whereas hers were lush, vibrant, and full of fresh smells. Nanna was always gentle and kind in the way she asked things and suggested her opinion. The last time I spoke to her, she had asked me if I was able to care for something that wasn’t myself, I thought she was joking and laughed her off. I was 16 at the time, and I felt strong, mature, and responsible, just as any 16-year-old does; they rule the world. When she visited, I wasn’t expecting her to hand me a plant. It was then my responsibility to care for and grow this plant.


It was a Hoya. The cutting was a single line of plant stem with thick and bold leaves hanging off the side. I didn’t know much about plants, but Nanna had one given to her when she was married and felt the need to pass it down to me. My mum wasn’t a fan of indoor plants, and so the tradition skipped her straight to me. Nanna somehow knew it would be an inspiration. A reason to start growing up.


I was given strict rules about this Hoya, how to care for it to make sure it grew strongly. It needed a good drink every couple of weeks, to be kept in a tight container (as the roots don’t like too much space), and to be provided with enough fresh air and sunlight. I was encouraged to take care of this plant, so I, too, would be able to hand it down to the next generation.


This inspired me, and I did take care of it. To this day it’s still growing, and I have been able to pass it to mum to care for until I find it a forever home (although I’m not sure how much she looks after it).


When I first moved to Melbourne, I lived in an apartment without much natural light and I didn’t have the time to care for a plant. I was too busy doing first-year university things, meeting friends, studying, and eating out, a lot.


When I moved house at the start of 2020, I had the space to bring new plants into my world. One trip to Bunnings and I came home with my first three plants to see, unsurprisingly, one of them die not long after. I returned to my family home during the first coronavirus lockdown and took my plants with me, unsure of how long it was going to be until I returned to Melbourne. I was looking forward to checking on the progress of my Hoya, to see if it had been cared for or not.


These plants were my little friends during this time. I looked after them so carefully that they came everywhere in the house with me and almost received too much attention. They were in the background of my university calls and they were even taken with me outside when I wanted to catch some sun. They had names and stickers, and were the focus of my day. I started following other indoor plant fans and reading how to best take care of them; it became an obsession.


When lockdown lifted in regional Victoria, it was time to expand my plant collection and it didn’t take long for it to grow from four plants to six. A family friend gave me a cutting of a Begonia, which I kept a careful eye on for a good six months. One day, I decided to pull it out of the pot it was in, and I saw it had roots. To say I was a proud plant parent was an understatement with the way I exclaimed. I re-potted it, hopeful, and watched as it started to grow young, new leaves.


The plants travelled with me whenever I was going to Melbourne and then back to regional Victoria again. The collection was growing; they even had their own table now. The Hoya was more suited to the outside weather elements, meaning it didn’t mind cool breezes or hot days. So, it sat in our undercover dining room. It hadn’t grown any new leaves, and it hadn’t died. Either way, it was a success.


Currently, in my Melbourne house, I have a few potted friends around but I wish I had more. To me, these plants are something to look after; a distraction, something to look at when I don’t want to look at white walls anymore. Many times, I have thought about how I would design my future house to incorporate my plants. They have taken up so much of my life and in the future, I would like to make it mandatory to keep them in the family.


When I visit home, I enjoy walking around the garden outside and looking at how different the plants are with their different needs and traits. The broom bushes provide dense foliage for animals to hide, the running postman creates green layers under plants. I find new plants mum has planted, and I always take a bunch of flowers home, depending on what is in season. It calms me to breathe in the fresh air and be surrounded by an assortment of colours, textures and smells.


I bring these flowers back with me to Melbourne and put them on display; they are my reminder of home. These flowers bring a sense of peace to my day and, due to their sturdiness, they survive a long time; often until I can go home and replace them again.


Growing up with parents who had such a strong passion for nature, it’s hard to not have that same passion flow through my veins. I cringe at kids who play rough with plants, or tear down weak trees and branches. I feel sorry for people who choose to only have grass in their front yard, and for people who build large industrial structures as houses with no room for creativity. It doesn’t sit well with me, and I wonder how those people have formed completely different mindsets.


Nature has always flourished, rain, hail or shine and it will continuously grow back to keep providing for future generations. National and State Parks need to be cared for, and I hope to carry this passion for these plants and this world into my career when I’m older. I hope to work for Parks Victoria and create opportunities that get families and children to care for the place they live and to make a healthier environment.


To imagine my future house would be to imagine a jungle of plants, with insects and birds fluttering outside; the aesthetic would be fresh and comfortable. If plants are the closest thing I have to children, then somehow that sits okay with me.


It has been a passion for so long, to write and to educate others. This is only thanks to my parents and my Nanna for setting me up on this mission. To the gift of the Hoya that is still growing strong in the hands of my mum.