IMG_3854Sometimes I feel I’m living a version of Groundhog Day.

I can predict, almost to the moment, when the first jonquils will peep through in the front garden.

It can make me feel a bit anxious, wondering if I’ve lived too long in the same place, or I’m becoming entrenched. I worry I’m in danger of letting my thinking get stale or my behaviours set.

But then I let myself drift back through time, to other occasions when those intensely perfumed white blooms have caught my attention: coming home from the camino, reminding me there was beauty to be had in my own patch; after the death of a friend, shaking me into seeing new life; late at night as guests walked out into cold night air, the fragrance linked to laughter and shared stories.

IMG_3736Wattle takes me to childhood. There were different strains of it, of course, in Western Australia, but that spicy honey scent and the certainty that sunshine, exactly that wattle-colour, will track me down, makes me feel six again. Sticking a sprig of wattle in a bottle brings instant optimism to my desktop. Brushing pollen tips as I step out onAustralian trails has always lifted me. They say there’s at least one species of wattle in bloom somewhere all year. How comforting that is. Spring all year.

IMG_3779I inhaled my first whiff of jasmine for this season in Sydney a week ago, and time-travelled to 1994 when my mum was dying. Jasmine, with its promise of warm spring nights, is associated with her death for me. But there is beauty and happiness in that, too. With the passing of time, I recall her smiles and embrace, so jasmine is now a reminder to live large. To suck in the moments. To inhale bigger breaths of scented air and optimism. Jasmine is a call to expand.


IMG_0437Roses are fat, lush memory-vessels.

Opening nights and well-wishes.

Swooning in June.

Birthdays and farewells.

Buckets of them. Bud vases.

Trysts and mists of time.

Pink roses are also my mother – her instruction to remember her whenever I see one trailing against a stone wall.


IMG_3498Love like a red red rose…

But oh, surely also an apricot wonder and a yellow sunburst and a Mr Lincoln with a scent to stop anyone’s tracks.

Even mine.

IMG_2299Surely those roses do  make the heart skip.







And sunflowers…flowers of the camino. Nothing brings back Spain like them. Nothing makes my toes itch so. Nothing makes my lips twitch into a smile like a sun sun sunflower. The roads lined with them, my memories dotted with them. Sun fun sunflowers, you have mapped my happy heart.

And the daffodil! How could I forget that easy-grow blessing that can be had for a gold coin. Generosity on a purse-string. What more?

Yes, I know already what comes next in my city wanderings…honeysuckle and tulips and cherry blossom peeping over fences and scenting back lanes. Does knowing of their arrival make me love them less? Will I greet them without joy, simply because they can be predicted? Or will I thank them for mapping my days and marking my ways?

I walk along and through and inside and outside of time and space and the floral clock of my years, and staleness is a choice, and patterns are for making as much as breaking…and flowers are a gift I must never fail to meet with love.

So have a bunch. From me.


A couple of postscripts…

There is a new article I wrote over at Eureka Street. Here is a link.

Also, I’ve updated the Events and Media page. A few talky things and some travel.


6 thoughts on “A floral clock

  1. Lovely reading Ailsa – makes me want to go out and pick some flowers immediately!! Or at least to wander down to Leaf and buy some – just for myself!!!

    1. Hi Maria,
      Do it! Do it! Sometimes the gifts we buy ourselves are the best of all. A kind of vote of confidence in self. Beautiful. Maybe a jonquil or two? xx

  2. I grew up with cape weed scattered across the paddocks and countryside of northern NSW. I assumed it was a native until a young Japanese friend and mother of one of my god-children said – no, its exotic. As indeed it is – from Cape Province in South Africa. Nevertheless its clumping brightnesses and the ease with which as children we could fashion it into daisy chains – piercing the stems just so far to enable us to string them together in strands – gives it a special place in my memory, Though surely they soon wilted…but so many more were strewn across the landscape – what could it have mattered, Yes, flowers and particular people – my maternal grand-mother – on the northern edges of Sydney – her rear garden edging into the bush with tall cosmos of crimson and white and pink. My Scottish grand-mother – sweet-peas evoke her memory – and the lilac by our front gate – my mother from the time of my childhood. Daphne is always as I walked to Kikuna Station (Yokohama) from where I was staying with my home-stay “mother” – the heady perfume inextricably tied to ICHII Hiroko and the rising snow-capped peak of Fuji-san (can it truly be – yes)! When my wife and I lived in Marrickville – it was always Friday afternoon – and from Mrs Jessop’s florist shop up the street we have brought home bunches of mauve chrysanthemums.And in the rear courtyard it is spring summer with the sweetness of Cyprus jasmine. My mother-in-law has just recently passed away – sadly – but when I was walking the 88-temple pilgrimage in Shikoku (my farewell to 16+ years lived in Japan) in the northern spring of early April four years ago – I caught the perfume of the jasmine you have featured above – and there it was – hanging over a wall – and I was thinking of Betsy-Mary – indeed I photographed the cause and showed it to her once back in Australia! Pæonies. The most fantastic place for these I have ever visited is the island – Daikonshima – in the midst of the Nakaumi – a part of Matsue-city in Shimane-ken. Vast gardens and specially arranged private gardens and an annual festival to feature these heavenly blooms (botan) over Golden Week – and a colleague and former students of mine from that place drew my wife and me back almost every year. And we would buy one or two each time – just occasionally for our own garden – but as gifts otherwise for others – the one I recall most easily for the grand-mother of a home-stay family in Ube. She herself cared for her mother-in-law till she was 106. In turn she is herself now into her mid-90s. Genteel and elegant – like the pæony itself. And for my wife – two Japanese plants come to mind – the camellia sasanqua (sazanka) at our front door – scattering its deeply pink petals all over the garden in the late autumn – and the blue hydrangeas (ajisai) along our kitchen-side path – so protected that despite most foliage being gone through the (mild) winters we have here (just north of Sydney) they have not ceased blooming for over two years now – unlike in Japan where they bloom most appropriately over the rainy season – and folk find the gardens and temples featuring them – to visit and admire. And then once on a train crawling (literally) up from Kalamata (of olives fame) into the mountains of ancient Sparta as we headed for Athens my wife spied wild cyclamens in the forest almost brushing the sides of our carriage – so that fixes her image with that flower as well. Before my deep interest in Japan began (from when I was 40) I was only – in some senses – peripherally aware of flowers and rarely knew names or origins (cape-weed? – just native daisies, surely) but aged 40 and entry to Japan came with growing awareness – and a deeper desire to know the why and how – and what is that called in Japanese! Flowers and skies – sunrises, sunsets – patterns of clouds – colours. All amaze the soul and lift the spirits. Thanks Ailsa – always – for reminding us – me!

  3. Oh Jim, Jim, Jim….
    How lush and lovely and dense is that meditation. And I have just been writing of my grandfather’s garden for my next book, and you overlap with so many. But most intensely, you have evoked for me the daisy-chains we made on school sports days. I ahd forgotten that precious moment of piercing the stem just so. Beautiful.
    And that lovely lovely list of connections and blooms.
    And you call me over and over to Japan. One day.
    You are such a generous correspondent. You fill me right up.
    Thank you. x

  4. Re: “But oh, surely also an apricot wonder and a yellow sunburst and a Mr Lincoln with a scent to stop anyone’s tracks.
    Even mine.”

    That’s funny you should say that Ailsa,I just turned 49 on Monday
    (23rd Sept),which always tends to make me speculate on life and how much I may have left in the tank,which got me to thinking about my father-in-law who passed away 3 years on October 30th,which makes me think of Halloween and yellow.Then I see your words about yellow and the red Mr.Lincoln rose,which took me back to how he would always insist I call him John once I became his son-in-law,but I always had trouble calling him that and would really have to force myself as I had grown so used to calling him Mr.Lincoln.
    Well,at least I know what rose to buy now on Oct 30th for John.
    Always a lesson to learn when reading your posts Ailsa.

    1. Happy birthday Darren. Hope you celebrated it with sun and flowers. The passing of time in blooms.
      I love the reflection on your John Lincoln. I honour his memory. And buying a Mr Lincoln will celebrate him for many years. They are the most rewarding of roses. Thanks as ever for your visit. Always you bring a posy of feelings and thoughts.

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