Ed’s Feral Cactus Garden

Artist Edwina Wrobel lives on Fred Street with her dog Tip. When I first met her a few years back she had a dog called Ted. Ed and Ted from Fred Street was how she was referred to in my phone address book. A unique listing for a unique woman with a wonderfully wild garden.

The first time I visited Ed she sent me home with three jars of pickles. I come prepared this time, with a gift of Portuguese pastries for afternoon tea. We sit under an old carport surrounded by huge clumps of cactus, whilst Kara the photographer snaps, snaps, snaps. I eat most of the pastries and Ed tells me the story of her garden.

Ed: It was my 20th anniversary of living here in March. I spent it quietly, with a glass of wine in the garden with Tip. This garden holds lots of memories. My father, who was also called Fred, passed away last year. He spent a lot of time with me in the garden.

I had to keep an eye on him because I’d give him a pair of shearers and say, “Can you just go for that tree?” And then, I’d come out and numerous other things were massacred.

Dad loved it. He loved gardens, he loved big feral gardens.

Georgina: Is that how you describe this garden?

Ed: Yeah. I describe it as feral. Like the owner!

Georgina: You know how say dogs become like their owners and owners become like their dogs, do you think that’s the same with gardens?

Ed: I do.

Georgina: So, you obviously don’t have control issues, do you? Because this is not a controlled garden at all…

Ed: No. Maybe I do have a bit of OCD but it’s in the house, not in the garden. I can’t cope with clutter in the house anymore, but I come out here and I’m just in heaven. I can cope.

This garden has changed and evolved with me as well. So, in that way, I think it’s very much like its owner.

There are plants here that have been rescued, and plants in hospital like the stag horns I’m trying to resuscitate for a friend. It’s all a bit kooky – things have been picked up off the road-side, and then friends have given me things and so on.

The tall clump of cactus actually started from a friend giving me one piece of each around 13 years ago. I stuck one piece of each in that oval area and it’s gone mad. I’ve amputated bits over the years. That’s what I love about the succulents, that you can just change the shapes of them. If a branch grows in the wrong way, you just cut it down. If the prickly pear paddle is misbehaving, you just get the handsaw out…

Georgina: Do you have big cactus handling gloves?

Ed: I have welder’s gloves, but they still get me.

Georgina: Do you wear glasses?

Ed: I make sure I wear my reading glasses, yeah, because I’m really paranoid about poking my eye out. I’ve always got bits in my fingers, in my shoulders. They eventually work their way out.

Georgina: They really get into you, especially the prickly pears, they’re mean.

Ed: They’re very mean. I’ve had friends housesit, and I’ve heard about all the injuries when I’ve returned. So far no one’s needed hospitalisation…

Georgina: Have you had repeat house sitters, or do they just do it once?

Ed: No, I’ve actually got repeat house sitters.

Georgina: Oh good. It can’t be that bad then. If people stopped coming, then you’d know there was a cactus problem!

Our conversation continues, punctuated by Kara’s excitement and Tip the dog’s gentle but persistent demands for attention.

Georgina: So Ed, how do people respond to the garden?

Ed: People really enjoy the garden. If they see me pottering around or on the veranda, they always say ‘I love your garden’, or ‘this garden’s really interesting’. When the prickly pears were fruiting, there was an old Italian guy who used to come around with his station wagon and cardboard box, and I’d open up the gate, get out a ladder, and say ‘pick them yourself, just don’t fall off!’ He would take them down and put them in his box and drive off.

Then there’s the Tahitian limes. I bag them up and people who like them let me know, and I drop them off to them. And I share the herbs too, stuff like that.

Having dogs is the main way that I’ve connected with the community, but the other way is having this garden. I let people come in. If I’m pottering around and they comment, I say ‘come in, do you want to have a look?’ They’ll come in and have a look, and a chat.

Georgina: Are you out here in the garden every day?

Ed: No. Not every day. I have put more time into it I think over the last year because it’s been great grief relief. I’ve put a lot of that into the garden I think. Which is a good place for it.

Georgina: It’s the best place for it. The day my grandmother died I coincidently bought an old kauri pine table. The next day I started sanding it back and didn’t stop for days. All my grief went into that table. When you’re grieving, you just need to—

Ed: Put it somewhere.

Georgina: Exactly.

Ed’s artists eye is clearly visible throughout the space. Everywhere I look is an interesting composition – a dancing Hawaiian ceramic statue amongst foliage, tyre swans hanging from the veranda, a bunch of hub caps attached to the fence and more.

It’s a wild, expressive and exuberant garden, barely contained by its suburban boundaries.

Most of us live in cities where wildness is an idea, something ‘out there,’ not on our streets or in our backyards. Gardens are commonly de-wilded. They’re contrived, controlled, curated. But when the wildness is allowed in, like in Ed’s garden, thats when the magic happens.

Ed’s feral garden is also the sort of space that makes me question my career as a landscape designer. It couldn’t be designed, couldn’t be created by anyone else but Ed. This is what makes it wonderful – it’s an expression of her creativity, her heart, her wildness, and approach to life. It’s an intensely personal space, and a joy to spend time in. Now to wrangle myself another visit…