Plant Stories

Collectors Have Stories


Garlic breaks ground in my garden, 2018. Planted two weeks before Easter which is my planting deadline each year (for best tasting garlic) in my part of the world.

My garlic plantings broke soil this week. When I saw this, my mind jumped to the day I brought home two proud Australian purple neck garlic bulbs – the grandparents of those shown in this photo.

It wasn’t time for planting garlic, in that summer of 2016. I had discovered a wonderful organic providore, earlier that day in the main street of Braidwood NSW. We were on the way home from the beautiful south coast after a wonderful family holiday, so my mind was probably in a carefree ‘memory-storing’ mood.

A slow wander through the organic produce and groceries there, halted suddenly when I stopped, riveted, gazing at a fresh produce shelf. My eye was magnetically drawn to two, proud, fresh, purple-neck garlic bulbs, staring at me from a natural weave basket. Some simple, handwritten cardboard signs, announcing the organic farms the bulbs had come from, added to my ‘vintagey, otherworldly’ moment. You know what I mean, I’m used to the opposite, living in the suburbs. Actually being able to pick your own produce without insulting plastic wrapping all over it, and not having to check whether what you are about to buy has a pulse, because you can see it is obviously picked fresh and brimming with life–well that’s a memorable moment!

If there is such a thing as Garlic-Speak, make no mistake I was talking it this day. Both bulbs were shouting, ‘pick me, pick me, I’m going home with you!’

In the hypnotic excitement of the moment, I wish I had taken the time to note their true names and the organic farms they came from! But no. As any ‘beyond organic’ suburban gardener knows–when you see organic garlic bulbs like those, buy them and store them in a cool, dark but dry place, until planting time. Don’t think–it is a singular, focussed, action–just buy! Why? Because if you go to a suburban supermarket or non-organic fruit shop and choose your growing stock from the sprout-retarding chemical laden imports that grace some of the chains–well, that can only end in tears. You want healthy breeding stock with a future…don’t you?

I paid a very reasonable price for these beautiful organic garlic bulbs and with a self-satisfied smile exited with a paper bag of  ‘collectors items’.  Yes, a less distracted collector would remember the garlic bulb name, not just ‘purple-neck garlic,’  but it is what it is. As a collector it’s the thrill of acquisition, isn’t it! It’s not just what you’ve purchased, it’s also the plans you have for it.

My mind was full of how these two bulbs would become many…and then the next year, many more and …and…and…how delicious and free and purple they would grow in my garden!

Two years later these little garlics I photographed, remind me exactly of their grandparents from Braidwood. Except now they have the added heritage of growing in my garden, from their parents. They’ll adapt specifically to my garden conditions and  increase in number.

This is a simple yarn, sure! ‘Not a classic anecdote is it?’ to quote good old Hugh Grant as Will Thacker in Notting Hill. They’re ONLY fairly readily-available organic Australian garlic bulbs! But they are not JUST garlic bulbs to me. Stories organise memories and give meaning to collections. They sustain and fulfil me in a way maybe collection stories of knitting needles or lego blocks, skydiving outfits or motorbikes, do for you. Or maybe you’re a gardener and you know exactly what I mean.

Point is…we each have ‘our thing’ and we all collect something. Find me even the most minimalist Minimalist and I’ll show you something they collect – it’s not always something we can see. Every human has a collection and each collector has stories.

By the way, have I told you about the new Hibiscus I bought last month? Only kidding. But yes, it’s real. And yes it happened…but it’s a story for another day! 🌸

© Trish McGill 2018


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