Sassy at seventy: Feral gardens and flying fish

Jan 13, 2023
Flying fish is no joke for Sandy Curtis. Source: Getty

My garden has gone feral. A few days of sun, some rain, and it’s turned into Costa’s worst nightmare.

Ever since I planted cherry tomatoes in my garden they’ve become like the relatives who “pop in” for a couple of days and never want to leave. All I need is one stray tomato to find its way to fertile ground and overnight more plants spring up and start planning their takeover of the garden. I go to bed at night afraid to sleep in case I wake up smothered in their ever-reaching tendrils. It’s like watching The Day of the Triffids in my own yard.

Googling revealed that some tomatoes are “determinates” and some are “indeterminates”. Apparently, determinates are the Goody-Two-Shoes of the tomato world. They grow straight up, have a nice, bush-like structure, produce a wonderful crop of fruit then have the decency to die in their nice, neat area without spreading themselves around like a Covid infection.

Indeterminates, on the other hand, are vine-like, sprawling across garden, lawn, patio furniture, neighbour’s fences and anywhere they feel inclined. Sort of like teenagers but without the smelly sneakers and the unending need to be fed. The joy of indeterminates is that they keep producing. Long after their Goody Two-Shoes cousins have done their sprint, indeterminates will continue their marathon, pushing fruit into every nook and cranny. The problem is finding those nooks and crannies. One single vine has eluded me on several occasions, and I’ve had to spend time tracing its path over pot plants, up trees, along the ground, and through fence palings. So far it has covered a distance of 12 metres in various distances from its tenacious roots. I get my daily step count just by picking a crop.

It also “fake dies”. I’ll go to cut what I think is a section that has died off, only to find it has sprung to life several metres on and sprouted leaves and fruit like a plant-based Lazarus.

I made the mistake of allowing some sprigs of mint to take root in the pebbled path along my patio, happy to enjoy the lovely aroma underfoot or after rain. Ah, ignorance, thy name is Sandy. While these few sprigs smiled cheekily at me, their root cousins were busily burrowing underground, waiting for the big rains that initiated their takeover of the entire garden. Now my strawberries come mint-flavoured, the bok choy is pre-seasoned, the pebbled path a dim memory.

You’ve probably ascertained, quite rightly, that I’m not much of a green thumb, and my enthusiasm is not matched by my garden’s cooperation. I planted beans – potatoes came up. I obviously hadn’t composted the scraps long enough before boosting the soil. My passionfruit vine has a lovely wooden jungle gym to grow over but it prefers to climb into the garden in competition with the cherry tomato. Papaya plants don’t survive if I transplant them so I now have trees growing in the most awkward of places.

Years ago a friend gave me a Sea Grape, supposedly a spreading shrub or small tree (6ft – 10ft). Unfortunately, the plant forgot to read the description. It’s easily 20ft high and wherever a branch touches the ground it takes root. It’s obviously the tree version of an indeterminate tomato.

Another friend gave me a blue-and-white strelitzia. “Two metres high, maximum,” said she. Now, at four metres high and almost that around, only a chainsaw keeps it under control.

And the fish? Well, a few months ago I found a fish (about 16cm long) in my backyard. Thinking one of the neighbourhood kids had pulled a prank, I put it in the rubbish and thought no more about it until I found another five further down the yard. I called my son, who got up on the roof and found seven more, all nicely dried out by now. None of my neighbours had been blessed by this manna from heaven, so I can only assume I had been the recipient of one of those rare phenomena where a water spout sucks up fish from the ocean and, when the conditions are right, they fall from the sky.

If only they’d been a lot bigger and a lot fresher I’d have had dinner for a fortnight.

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