book review: Green Pens

Green Pens: A Collection of Garden Writing, compiled and edited by Katie Holmes, Susan K. Martin and Kylie Mirmohamadi. The Miegunyah Press, 2004.

I loved this book. It contains excerpts from Australian gardeners' letters, diaries, books, seed catalogues, magazines - many quaint forms of communication that existed pre- internet. It provides a lens to look at Australian social history since white settlement: the gradual decline of the colonial mentality embodying lack of respect for Australian indigenous plants and the bush, the growth of multiculturalism, the important though under-rated, role of women.

You get a picture of the incomprehension between the indigenous people and the white settlers. Such different ideas about gardening. This was the start of building fences, boundaries, ideas of private ownership - leading to tragedy and displacement for the Australian Aborigines.

Some parts took me back to my own childhood growing up in the fifties in suburban Melbourne. We had a square of lawn, a Hills Hoist, and garden beds around the edges with a lemon tree and some vegetables. The front garden was for show - ornamental shrubs, particularly roses, and the backyard was for practical purposes: for children to play in and hanging out the washing.