Our family moved to the house where we now live, in early December 2007. At the time there was a fairly big birdcage in the backyard, near the tool shed. Very close to it the previous owners had kept a small patch of strawberry plants.
We soon gave away the birdcage, and trying to emulate the one I used to look after in Yass, I decided to create a veggie patch where the birdcage had stood – the soil there was richer there, for obvious reasons. For the veggie patch to be of a decent size, I had to get rid of the strawberries. I spent a fair bit of time converting that area into a veggie patch that summer.
As a child I remember keeping a few strawberry plants for myself, and I would be incensed whenever my brother ate my strawberries. Before throwing away the strawberry plants, I asked the neighbours, who were not interested. Then I asked Clea if she would like to keep any. Yes, she said. Clea loved strawberries – she loved just about any kind of fruit, actually.
So I moved the plants to another area in the garden where nothing was growing then. It was (still is) a smallish corner, and at the time it was covered with some weathered mulch and nothing else. I dug up the soil as well as I could, and pretty soon we had a few strawberry plants growing; we even managed to eat a few strawberries – just a handful – later that summer.
In 2008 Canberra was in drought, like most of Australia, so 2008 was not a great year for strawberries, but the few small ones we collected Clea would take to school for her fruit morning break. Like with any other fruit, home grown strawberries do not grow to be huge like the supermarket ones; but they are definitely tastier.
In 2009 I decided to give the strawberries a good boost and applied a generous layer of Moo Poo to them (Moo Poo? – yes, that’s the brand name of the fertiliser!). Some good rains that year – I remember seeing full dams everywhere that October day when we were finally able to return home from Samoa – produced a bumper crop. But Clea was not here with us to eat them.
Clea’s strawberries have kind of gone wild all over the place. These days they grow by the veggie patch (which is rather neglected, I must admit); they also grow beneath some rose bushes on the western side, and they now have invaded part of the terraced garden at the northern side. Recent rains have helped the plants produce wonderful blooms, and the coffee and tea dregs we pour on them seem to give them some extra strength, without resorting to Moo Poo.
One of the sonnets I wrote in late 2010 began like this:
Shall I imagine an infinite field
of strawberries for you, …
Amid an endless field of strawberries – that’s where I would have wished Clea to be then. Yet I knew she was gone forever. Depending on the day, my wish (not a hope… What on earth is hope? What is it for?) may take one form or another, but in actual fact, it never materialises. But let Clea’s strawberries grow, let the plants take over the whole garden if they wish to do so.
Clea’s brothers will soon be eating all those strawberries she cannot eat. As for me, if I were able to share one last handful of these home grown strawberries with her, the last one, something in this new life I have to live would make sense, somehow.