I call it the grand final plant because I’ve been planting them on grand final day irregularly over the past few years. Not for any particular reason; the lady at the nursery told me one year that they pot their annual batch of echiums in the last week of September. So that's how I came to plant the first few on grand final day one year.
I had been looking for a low maintenance plant to fill the gaps in the garden at the beach house. Sandy soil means you don’t have a great choice apart from agapanthus, which would grow on the moon if it could. One winter, I ripped out enough agapanthus to fill a Kenworth tipper. Agapanthus spreads and clumps and takes over. You lose tennis balls in it. I was tired of having to deadhead the flowers each year, and tired of buying tennis balls. When I dug out the agapanthus, I found enough tennis balls to supply Wimbledon for ten years. There’s no tennis court in the garden; just grass, and the boys used to hit the balls all over the place; on the roof, over the fence, through windows; but the balls mainly ended up in that horrible undergrowth of agapanthus. Out it came and in went the echiums.
Echium has an open, spreading habit with grey-green foliage all year round and very striking purple spiky flowers in summer. It is also heat tolerant. The ex-agapanthus garden bed faces west and catches the afternoon summer sun and temperatures rocket up into the forties at the height of summer.
On grand final morning in 2009, I drove down to Glenvue nursery in Rye and bought half a dozen six-inch potted specimens. That afternoon, I took the radio outside, stacked the echiums in a row, dug holes in the garden bed along the west side of the house, and listened to the grand final while planting them. My team was out of the finals that year and I was going for St Kilda.
Just as I was planting the last echium, about ten past five, Travis Varcoe handballed to Paul Chapman, and he kicked a goal, and Geelong won. I think of that grand final moment when I look at that echium - next to the back door - now. But that’s OK, because Chapman plays for Essendon now and won a few games for the Dons this year. The echium is now at least six feet tall, and up to eight feet in summer when its spikes take off.
Same day the next year, I put in some more echiums, but I saved them for the grand final replay. I was going for St Kilda again because (a) my team was still out; (b) St Kilda still only had one flag; (c) they were playing Collingwood and (d) I was getting sick of seeing Ian Meldrum in the papers every grand week. Just bloody win one. They didn’t. I didn’t listen to the first game, but I knew the result. I had walked through the streets down to Blairgowrie beach and the clamour from all the backyard barbecues signalled every goal. I walked back to the house around five. Dead quiet. Eerie. I knew immediately what had happened, of course. Got home, turned on the radio. Draw.
Next week I was back in the garden, as usual. Collingwood won the replay. More in 2012, when for some reason I favoured the Swans. Can’t think why. Bloody Sydney. What a horrible city it is. We’ve given our game away. In the 1960s there was a novelty song in the charts called Melbourne and Sydney. One line it in ran, Sydney's got its strippers but we’ve got Ron Barraaaaaassi (pronounced rrrrrrrr). Not any more we don’t. First Sydney got Barassi literally. Now compare the Swans with this city’s iconic club, the MFC. What a joke.
By now I had the west garden bed covered, and new plantings in a several island clumps further down the back garden. Every summer, the garden roared with bees. Open the backyard and it sounded like a Tiger Moth from Moorooduc airfield passing over but it was just a million bees getting nectar from the hundreds of purple spikes which were now up to eighteen inches tall. I had created a monster.
This spring, something happened. I didn’t have to go to the nursery. Hundreds of echium seedlings appeared in the undergrowth, like baby animals under the skirts of their mother. Literally hundreds. I could open my own echium nursery!
But I didn’t. I just waited until they were as big as the Glenvue nursery specimens had been, which was grand final week, of course; then pulled a dozen or so gently from the ground, preserving their baby root balls, and transplanted them along the northern fence line.
Echiums work best in massed plantings, and this is one hell of a massed planting. But it’s not the only plant. Behind the bungalow is a twenty foot plumbago hedge. Purple.
Purple Haze all in my eyes,
don't know if it's day or night,
you've got me blowing, blowing my mind
is it tomorrow or just the end of time?