I came across a pile of garden magazines in a recent declutter and one in particular brought back uncomfortable memories.

In the 1980s I was working fulltime, but also trying my hand as a freelance writer.

In 1988 my husband Rob and I bought our first freestanding house in Sydney; a 1920s property on the lower north shore called Ashley. It was in Mosman, not far from Taronga Zoo. This wasn’t a grand home by any means, but it did have a lovely, main harbour view.


Although the garden was steep and nondescript, it filled me with excitement. I grew up in Tasmania and both my mother and grandmother loved gardening. I couldn’t wait to create something myself, albeit in a very different climate.

What followed was a horrendous battle with onion weed that almost broke my spirit. I’m sure we didn’t have onion weed in Tassie. The other problem was that I really didn’t know what I was doing. Nevertheless, I had great visions of what might eventually be achieved. It was in this spirit that I wrote an article titled ‘Gardening is in My Blood’.

In retrospect it sounds ridiculous, but I sent it to the glossy, Australian House & Garden Magazine. Only after I’d posted the piece did I notice their stern editorial comment; ‘No unsolicited material accepted.’ Oh dear! Well, never mind.

A few days later I received a response that made my blood run cold.

Photos of the garden? OMG! I thought of all the gorgeous illustrations in the magazine and felt ill. I had enclosed a photo with the article, though not of the wretched garden. It was of a vase of ranunculus, the only flowers I’d had any success with.

As you can imagine I didn’t want to ruin my big ‘break-through’, so I nervously made the phone call. I did tell them there wasn’t a lot in flower. Anyway, they said they could send the photographers the next day, or wait until after the Easter holidays. Another few days and there would be nothing to photograph whatsoever, so next day it had to be. 😨

Thankfully I was at work, so I didn’t have the humiliation of hearing them say, ‘How the hell are we going to make something decent out of this?’

The worst part was that I had used a bit of poetic licence in my story. In my defence, I was trying to highlight the difference between my mother’s cold climate garden and my own. Hence this bit of purple prose;

‘The climatic difference between my mother’s hill and my own is perhaps best illustrated by the bouganvilleas, which tumble along our lower balcony. Appropriately enough for a house called ‘Ashley’ , there is a Scarlet O’Hara. Like her namesake she is both beautiful and brazen. Her brilliant red bracts spill over the railing in tropical extravagance.’ Yes, that’s what I wrote.


Introduction to my garden story.

That lead in was a bit unfair. I’d only said I hated cutting the macrocarpa hedge.

Fortunately the sun was shining on the day of the photo shoot and filters were definitely used. The pics don’t reproduce well here, but the garden didn’t look as bad as I’d feared.

The garden below the deck.
Looking down to the bottom of the garden.

EXCEPT…..can you spot something spilling over the balcony?

A garden on a balcony?  Oh dear me!

Oh the shame. My friends and work colleagues thought the whole thing was hilarious, and teased me endlessly about those bloody bougainvilleas.

By the way, they didn’t even use my shot of the ranunculus. 😟

Now there is a happy end to this story. I never dared submit anything else to House & Garden, but went on to write for other magazines, publishing stories on gardens around Australia and overseas. The peak of my career came when an editor arranged a press pass for me to the Chelsea Flower Show in 1996. Thanks House & Garden and I’m truly sorry I led you astray.

FOOTNOTE – The bougainvilleas failed to thrive in their pots and I gave them to my work mate Gloria. She delighted in showing me how gorgeous they were whenever we visited her house.

Ever considered visiting the Chelsea Flower Show?

  1. How I loved this story… nothing ventured, nothing gained

  2. A very entertaining history of your early gardening ‘career’. Loved it! And envious of your Chelsea pass. I attended Chelsea Flower Show for many years, but just as one of the hoi polloi.

    • Pauline

      It was great being able to stroll right into the gardens. Nest time I took my aunt and a friend and it was very different with no press pass! 😪

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