The Dirt: Charlie & June

Charlie and June live in Miranda, in southern Sydney. They met over 30 years ago on the dance floor. June is an award winning ballroom dancer. Charlie is now too. The pair love their garden, a space which is both an illustration and an affirmation of their thirty-something year marriage. Its terrain holds stories, scars, and small victories. It is the landscape of a human relationship.

I can’t remember the last time I visited a neater, more well maintained garden. The front lawn is cleaner than the carpet of any rental home I have ever lived in. Each plant is nurtured, celebrated, enjoyed. A collection of old concrete pots, all painted bright white, line the driveway.

A fernery holds Charlie’s orchid collection, the cactus and succulents are on shelves next to the garage, the vegetables are arranged neatly in rows, and the petticoat petunias dance out their short lives in more white painted pots at the back door. The variegated hydrangea in the front garden gets covered up with a blanket on hot days – It’s delicate leaves and flowers are easily burnt by the sun. Charlie and June’s garden is that kind of garden.

Charlie with his freshly picked carrots.
June next to her favourite plant, red flowering geranium.

The front garden is June’s domain. Charlie has been relegated to the vegetables and the orchids out the back. The problem exists in their different approach to garden maintenance. June is a subtle pruner, she enjoys the looseness and fullness of her plants. Charlie, on the other hand, loves a good chop.

Charlie loves pruning,’ says June. ‘We have had a few disagreements about it. I had some lovely prawn plants out the front, the yellow and pink ones. I came home one day and he had chopped them all back and they were just sticks. I just cried.

‘And then he pruned my hibiscus at the front and it was…well, anyway. He is not allowed to touch them anymore. I got really upset the last time Charlie pruned and I think he is a bit frightened now.’

Charlie has a different take on the subject of pruning. ‘Well, I’m a boy pruner. I like shaping things,’ he says.

‘I would have that shrub shaped into a nice ball, yeah. But no, see this hibiscus? It’s June’s real pride and joy and I got stuck into it one day because I thought it was getting too big. I pruned it and low and behold the next year, June cut it back further than I did. Well. You just don’t know, do you?’

Charlie and June are in the garden every day. It’s part of their routine. ‘I think gardening is good therapy. If you are a bit stressed out, you go out into the garden and pull out a few weeds, dead-head some flowers and your troubles go away, June says.

In 1960, soon after she had moved to Australia from London, June bought a small red geranium plant from Coles on King Street in Sydney city. She still has it in the garden, having propagated it from the original plant, all those years ago. Pots of it line the driveway and adorn the backyard. It’s her favourite plant.

Whilst June is drawn to the beauty and looseness of gardening, Charlie is into structure, invention, and recycling. Nearly everything in the garden has been made by him. From the racks in the fernery made from discarded supermarket fridge shelves, to trellises made from metal fence panels, to his ingenious staking solution involving bbq skewers, Charlie has always been an inventor and a collector. June says.

20 years ago, Charlie was a mad garage sale collector. If anyone had any rubbish out we would go around in the car and I would slide down low in the seat so nobody could see me. We would come home with a boot full of pots.

Despite their different approaches to gardening, to suggest Charlie and June’s garden is a warzone would be a grand exaggeration. It’s most definitely a democracy. There is dialogue, joint decision making, and plenty of working together. Charlie collects the concrete pots from the side of the road, June paints them white. June nurtures the fuchsias, Charlie prunes them to the ground in full bloom. Charlie grows the spinach, June reluctantly cooks it (he has been growing it for thirty years and she still dislikes it!).

Love and joy. This is what remains after the all the pots are painted, the fuchsias pruned, and the spinach cooked. Love and joy in abundance. It’s tangible in the energy between Charlie and June and underpins the beauty of their garden. Nothing, not even differing opinions on pruning, can compromise a garden or a relationship nourished by such powerful forces.