Crackers! #5: Sam George-Allen


We hope you’ve been enjoying our very merry, end-of-year series, Crackers!

We asked eight of our favourite writers to look back on the year that was and tell us about the best gift that 2015 gave them/the world. Today’s response comes from Sam George-Allen.

In 2015 I quit my job – a job that ought to have been a Dream Come True, considering I was a Creative Industries graduate actually working in a creative industry, but was in fact a certified nightmare. My plan was to pursue my Actual Dreams: ostensibly things like “working for myself” and “publishing a book”. But it turns out my actual dreams are all garden-based.

As I hacked off the bare, dusty branches with blunt secateurs, I felt like I was snipping off the shit bits of the year, too.

I allowed myself a sabbatical after resigning, to try to plan for my uncertain financial future and to shake off the shadow of the year’s stresses. This mainly took the form of sitting on the back porch drinking vodka and orange juice, and occasional bursts of ruthless tree pruning. We have a citrus and a camellia growing next to the back stairs, and they were crippled with sooty mould. I needed to focus on something other than my own anxieties, and the simple task of caring for these neglected trees felt particularly good. As I hacked off the bare, dusty branches with blunt secateurs, I felt like I was snipping off the shit bits of the year, too. I would return to the shade sweaty and calm.

I became very enthusiastic about the trees. I fertilised with Osmocote around the dripline and layered cardboard and sugarcane mulch around their trunks to kill the weeds. I watered them with tank water. I borrowed a tin of grease from the mechanic next door and painted around all the branches to keep the ants off the leaves (ants milk aphids, and sooty mould grows on the aphid milk). My shoulders bulked up from the pruning and mulch-lifting. I bought several wide-brimmed hats and very high SPF sunscreen, bullied my partner into driving me to Bunnings, and spent hours on the phone to my mother discussing the virtues of Seasol for houseplants.

I dream about the garden every night.

Now, several months later, I have far too many tomato plants, giant cucumbers, melon seedlings I’ve started from a supermarket rockmelon, leeks and spring onions I’ve grown from table scraps, and two kinds of jasmine creeping over a handmade trellis (I taught myself the tautline hitch in order to make it). In the evenings when it’s cool I dig in new garden beds and hurt my back picking up bags of compost to improve the soil. I dream about the garden every night. I dream the indoor fig has grown ten feet and my jasmine has burst into flower all at once. I no longer dream about losing the week’s work or failing to send the newsletter on time. I don’t wake up at two in the morning from a nightmare about being taken to court by my employers. Now I wake up at six and water the nasturtiums.

It’s hard to write about working with your body in the earth without sounding vaguely cultish, or at least very sappy. But I am very sappy about it. 2015 is the year that’s given me a proper sense of gratitude for what I have: a bunch of smart, lively people I can call my friends; a kind, resourceful partner who will lift my giant bags of potting mix and build a shadehouse for me without even being asked; and a home with a garden. My garden is the best thing to come out of 2015, even if it means I have to piss on the porch to keep the possums away, which I will do if they keep eating my seedlings. I don’t mind. Few things bother me now. My plants are growing, and so am I.

Sam George-Allen is a Brisbane writer and musician.