Lynda Hallinan’s Blog: Boots and blossoms

After wobbling in posh-but-painful shoes, Lynda turns to dainty and delicate flowers in her spring garden. 

I’ve never been a girly-girl sort of gal. Even when I was a rural teen, I preferred bubblegum jeans and chambray shirts to the floaty skirts and op shop frocks my school friends wore with their Doc Martins.

As a twenty-something, I did blow a fair whack of my salary on impossibly high heels and shamelessly short dresses for nights out on the town, but by my mid-thirties, I’d begun to gravitate towards sensible sandals, platform wedges and puddle-proof boots, all of which literally stood me in good stead when I moved back to the land.

Behold the only pair of posh shoes that Lynda’s labrador puppy Cricket hasn’t got his paws and jaws on. Yet.

Now in my mid-forties, I own just two pairs of shoes with heels. Not because I’m a sartorial minimalist who has slavishly Marie Kondo-ed her wardrobe, but because in the space of six months, our new labrador puppy Cricket has chewed through all my shoes except for one pair of steel-capped military-style ankle boots and the vintage green velvet pumps I keep up high on my bookshelf.

Those chewed shoes are no great loss. When you live in the country, you invariably dress down rather than up anyway – in the words of Kiwi singer-songwriter Greg Johnson, “ball gowns aren’t much use in small towns” – but last weekend I put on my velvet pumps to totter up the road for a potluck dinner.

Spring is the season for filling trugs with feminine flowers such as self-sown forget-me-nots, fragrant freesias, bluebells, plum blossoms and bobbly rice flowers.

“You’re walking funny,” said my husband.

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“Funny, how?” I asked.

“Like a faun,” he replied.

“A fawn? Like Bambi?” I asked. (Bambi, after all, is as cute as a button and possesses two fetching pairs of slender pins.)

“No, a faun,” he explained, “like that mythological half-human, half-goat thing that Lucy meets in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.”

For those of you who haven’t dipped into The Chronicles of Narnia since high school, let me refresh your memory. The faun in question is Mr Tumnus, a character described by C.S. Lewis as having a “strange but pleasant little face” plus ruddy cheeks, horns on his head, cloven hooves, a goatee beard, hairy legs and a long tail. So to recap, when I wear high heels, my husband thinks I walk like a cross-dressing bloke, or a topless mutant goat.

Lynda’s favourite self-sown strumpet of spring: the pretty lace flower, Orlaya grandiflora. A must-have for cottage gardens, it seeds like a lovable rogue but never outstays its welcome.

Clearly, my man doesn’t see me as a delicate wee petal, yet there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary in our garden. Even when I’m stomping about in gumboots, of which I own five pairs in four different colours, I never feel more feminine than when I’m filling a trug with spring floozies such as babianas, bluebells and freesias.

I reckon spring was made for ladies, like me, who occasionally want to wax lyrical about cherry blossom confetti and verandahs festooned with floriferous fringes of old-fashioned roses and wanton wisteria. In spring, I thrash my thesaurus in search of descriptors for flowers that are dainty and diaphanous, ephemeral and ethereal, floaty and frou-frou.

Break out your granny’s best crystal bud vases to create a sweet spring display from the first short-stemmed rosebuds, geraniums, daisies, and ageratum blooms.

The first spring flowers are generally pastel in hue, fragile of petal and fleeting of habit. And yet most of the self-sown strumpets that pop up in my garden paths are surprisingly hardy souls: my favourites include lacy white Orlaya grandiflora, blue borage, honesty, love-in-the-mist, larkspurs, foxgloves, forget-me-nots, poppies and granny’s bonnets. They are the prettiest of pickable weeds, whether bunged casually into a large jam jar, artfully arranged in a hand-tied posy or displayed in a collection of vintage crystal bud vases.

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This spring in particular, it seems we could use a little more floral frippery to lift our spirits. Hospitality’s pain appears to be gardening’s gain: we’re ditching weekend brunch catch-ups in socially-distanced cafes for hardcore horticultural retail therapy. Garden centres, hardware stores, seed merchants and specialist nurseries are reporting boom times for sales of everything from heirloom tomato seeds to landscape-grade trees.

I’ve succumbed to an economy-boosting bout of spring fever myself this week. I splashed out on a new obelisk for my veggie patch, six punnets of sweet peas (to replace the seedlings the rabbits ate), a standard buxus topiary, a pink daisy bush called ‘Lolly’, two bags of seed potatoes, 13 miniature roses and 36 sempervivum succulents.

Why do we go all giddy at the sight of plum trees laden with blossom? Is it the promise of more fruitful days to come?

And, although it’s getting late to be bedding in new trees, I’ve just bought bought four dogwoods, five heart-foliaged katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), nine ghostly-barked birches (Betula utilis ‘White Spire’), 10 ornamental Japanese flowering apricots (Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’, which I intend to coppice as a cut flower crop) and two dozen rhododendrons in delicate shades of pale pink, cream, lemon, peach and apricot (a sure sign I’m getting on; I’ll be an old biddy collecting tuberous begonias before you know it).

What is it about spring that makes sinking our hands into the soil so irresistible, whether you’re an urban hipster planting trendy ‘Cafe au Lait’ dahlias or a backyard veggie gardener aiming for self-sufficiency? Is it optimism? Is it hope? Is it the annual awakening of our primeval desire to nurture and nourish? Or is it simply a blessed distraction from 2020’s collective case of Covid-19-induced cabin fever?

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Whatever it is, I’m in, boots and all, this spring.


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