‘You should call this story Smoke and Mirrors,’ David Whitworth suggests. ‘Or maybe How to Hide your Ghetto Garden.’ David is a landscape architect, painter, and was a Planthunter intern back in the early days. He’s a thoroughly interesting character with a beautiful aesthetic, and a passion for plants. His garden is testament to this.
David lives in a rambling old terrace house in the central Sydney suburb of Chippendale, with three other flatmates. He’s lived there for nearly eight years, and has slowly transformed the small rear courtyard space from a ‘run-down mosquito ridden mud puddle’, to a lush and leafy jungle.
‘We had a chook run in the backyard to begin with, and then tried growing vegetables but it was too shady,’ David tells me. The most recent incarnation of the garden began in 2012, after David started studying landscape architecture.
Slowly but surely David evicted the mosquitos, removed the clotheslines criss-crossing the side walkway and covered the slimy paving with timber decking tiles from IKEA. He built a raised timber deck towards the rear of the space using old timber palettes and scavenged recycled timber decking boards, and when the structure was in place, the plants began to fill it.
David’s plant acquisition strategy is simple: ‘I either request plants for my birthday, or I give them to myself as a reward – one year I finished some shitty exam and I was like “Right, I need a $300 Ficus lyrata right NOW!” I treat myself with plants.’
It helps, too, that David’s become known as the guy who’ll save your pot plants from imminent death, or adopt them if you move. ‘I’m like those ladies who end up with houses full of frog ornaments. Everyone knows she has a soft spot for frogs, so they keep giving them to her,’ David explains. ‘That’s what has happened with me. I don’t ever say no to plants because I’m a hoarder. I just say “sure, I’ll find space.” As a result, there’s not really much space for people, but that’s OK.’
I ask David what his flatmates think about his jungle garden. ‘I hope they like it,’ he says. ‘Although I don’t think they appreciate bush-bashing to get to the laundry!’
What David loves most about the garden is the act of working, not sitting, in it. ‘In a way, gardeners are always building to a point that never arrives. I often think I’ll fix something and then just sit back and enjoy it, have a cup of tea, that kind of thing, but it doesn’t happen. I’ve realised I prefer the re-arranging, the tending, the watering. I think “to tend” is my favourite verb.’
As the gardener tends to the garden, the garden nurtures the gardener. The garden teaches much if we choose to learn, because, as David suggests, a garden is a relationship not a picture.
This story is part of our monthly collaboration with Georgina Reid of The Planthunter.